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True friendships

Frodo is paddling a boat across a river, leaving the Fellowship after deciding to take the Ring on his own to destroy it at Mount Doom in Mordor. Sam—one of literature’s most endearing and moving examples of faithful love in friendship—wades into the water after him:

Frodo: Go back, Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.

Sam (who keeps striding deeper into the water): Of course you are! And I’m coming with you!

Frodo: You can’t swim! Sam!

Sam keeps coming, struggling, and then sinks into the water, leaving ripples on the surface.

Frodo (leaning over the edge of the boat): Sam!

Sam struggling as he sinks, then stares up at the surface—then a hand suddenly plunges down and grabs his own. Frodo helps to pull Sam onto the boat.

Sam: I made a promise, Mr. Frodo.

Frodo looks at Sam, speechless, tears in his eyes.

Sam: A promise! ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to! I don’t mean to.

Frodo: Oh Sam!

The two embrace and then turn the boat towards the opposite shore, heading to Mordor—together.

--a final scene from Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring, faithfully adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel.

A guest rector referenced the above scene as he reflected on the friendship between David and Jonathan at the Anglican church we gathered with this morning. I’ve always loved the story of David and Jonathan and appreciated the parallel from another story I also treasure. It is good to be reminded of the commitment and sheer beauty and depth of authentic and genuine friendships.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become intrigued by another friendship, this one in a more unlikely place: the irreverent ABC law drama, Boston Legal. Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) are both radically different (one politically conservative and the other liberal with an age difference between them of around 20 years) but also very similar (sharing a compulsion for fishing, womanizing and making a big splash in the courtroom, among other things)—and they share one of the more rare and endearing platonic friendships I’ve ever run across on television. Currently, I’m reading William Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Now, and at one point he reflects on the friendship between Shore and Crane:
I think what surprised everyone was the intensity of the relationship that developed between Denny Crane and Alan Shore. Their friendship has been called the best love affair on television. Certainly there has never been a stronger bond between two men portrayed on a series. David E. Kelley had planned for them to be law partners, close friends, and confidants, but what developed organically from these two characters has far transcended those original intentions.
According to Shatner, the “feedback was enormous; people, men mostly, responded to their friendship.”

Nearly every episode ends with what Shatner calls a “trademark” scene, the two on the balcony off Crane’s office, reclining in two arm chairs smoking cigars and sipping on glasses of Scotch. When it comes to their friendship, their exchanges are often surprisingly and refreshingly frank. Shatner recalls this comment by Shore to Crane on the nature of their relationship:
“. . . But gosh, what I get from you, Denny. People walk around today calling everyone their best friend. The term doesn’t have any real meaning anymore. Mere acquaintances are lavished with hugs and kisses upon a second or at most third meeting, birthday cards get passed around offices so everybody can scribble a snippet of sentimentality for a colleague they barely met, and everyone just loves everyone. As a result when you tell someone you love them today, it isn’t heard much. I love you, Denny; you are my best friend. I can’t imagine going through life without you as my best friend. I’m not going to kiss you, however."
Heh. The most recent episode, in which Shore saved Crane’s life by giving him CPR after he collapsed and almost died, included this exchange:

Crane: I must say, I feel . . .

He pauses.

Crane: . . . great comfort, the way you’re there for me. When the day comes at least I won’t be alone.

Alan looks at him.

Shore: You won’t be alone.

While conversations like these are more common between women in film and television, it is rare to find such honest and frank discussion of love between two men who are friends. The reasons for that are most likely more than one—from the difference between genders to (as the rector aptly articulated) the “sexualization of intimacy” by our culture to the experience of we who write the stories we do—and a subject for another post. For now, I can only admit it is one aspect of the series that keeps me coming back each week.

Stories like these—from the ones in Scripture to those on big and small screens—invite us to examine our own relationships. In fact, at the end of his reflection on David and Jonathan, the rector fittingly asked us: What if we had friends like that? What if we were friends like that?

I am in awe to admit that I have such a friend, though I am most undeserving. We share an age difference of almost 20 years. I’m a mom of two children still in elementary school, while she’s got grandchildren that age. For the last seven years, we’ve lived a continent apart but we’ve been friends—actually, more like sisters of the soul—for over 15 years. She was in the room with my husband and I when our now 10-year-old daughter was born and held her in her arms moments later. She flew 1500 miles after my son arrived in this world five years ago and held him again a few months ago as we shared a rare day together. She shares my hunger to experience God’s life in those wide-open spaces of his glorious and love-filled kingdom-coming, my longing for God’s people to be who they called and enabled to be. She knows most of my faults and flaws, yet loves me just the same. I’ve had to ask her forgiveness more than once, and she’s always extended it. She’s reinforced my belief that love is what God says it is—that God is who he says and does what he says.

Being loved by her has made me a better person and enables me to be a better friend as well as accept friendship from others. Since I’ve know her, I’ve developed friendships with at least three more women whom I’d call sisters, too. I think that David’s relationship with Jonathan bettered him, too. And that truth is reflected in stories we tell today—like the one between Frodo and Sam and, yes, the one between Shore and Crane.

But why shouldn’t friendships like that do what they do? That’s what real love does, right?

(Image: screencapture of Fellowship of the Ring, New Line, Warner Bros; Boston Legal, "Guardians and Gatekeepers", ABC, via TV Guide) miscctgy