Nature of friends

My 6-year-old son, Riyan, came home from summer camp the other day, and as usual was explaining what he had done that day. He kept mentioning his new “best” friend, and I asked him who this particular friend was, since I had never heard his name. It turned out that he had just met this kid that morning and all of a sudden he had turned out to be Riyan's best friend. It made me laugh at how easily a new person can become a child's best friend, and got me thinking about my own friends.

It seems there is an inverse relationship between aging and the number of best friends one has. As a child, every kid that plays with you and doesn't make you cry or get you in trouble is considered a “best friend”; however, as you get older with every year that passes, it seems that instead of gaining more friends, one tends to perhaps gain more acquaintances and less true or “best friends”.

As a child I was lucky enough to have grown up in Tehran going to one elementary school — Miss Mary or 'Bahare-Now — and one high school — Tehran International School or “Iranzamin” — and therefore my best friends are from those two schools. I do consider it a blessing that even though I am 47, I can tell my kids that I have known my best friends for almost 35 of those 47 years, as opposed to Riyan that makes best friends as early as this morning. No doubt, there is also a relationship between being in one school with the same kids for all of elementary or high school, and the number of kids that turn out to become close friends.

Friendships can be categorized as 1) acquaintances, 2) friends, and finally 3) “good” or “best” friends. The same goes in Farsi when we say “ashena”, “doost”, and “behtareen doost”. I have noticed in my own life that as each year passes, a lot of people I used to consider friends move into the category of acquaintance, and many that I considered best friends move into the category of friends.

The reasons vary, sometimes it's just geographical distance, sometimes it's different lifestyles, but whatever the reason, unfortunately, the best friend category doesn't seem to enlist new members anymore and hasn't for a long time. It's sad for me when my “best” friend category shrinks and they just shift into the regular friends or acquaintance category, but at least I thank God that I still have a few I consider “best friends”.

These best friends, who don't number more than 2 or 3 at most, live here in the U.S., and we have watched each other's kids grow, and in some cases, even the kids have become acquainted (however, it's for them to decide when they will call each other “best friend”, if ever). We try to see each other when we can, we phone each other and are of course on each other's email lists for jokes, news of Iran, etc. I don't even know how I could define on paper what a “best” friend is, even if I tried. I guess its a subjective matter and each person may have a different definition that satisfies him or her.

The best definitionI heard for a friend is in a story told by our 7th grade Farsi teacher in Iranzamin, Mr. Nazemi, explained to us one day back in the '70s. He told us this old Persian story of a son whom had taken some of his father's riches and was living the high-life enjoying parties and gatherings with many “friends” each night. The father told him not to waste his money on “flies around the cake”, meaning that once the money ran out and parties ended, no one would stick around.

This hurt the son's pride, exclaiming to his father that he had hundreds of friends and that the father was wrong or even maybe jealous. The father said to him that he was amazed that his 20-something-year-old son had hundreds of friends while the father, who was 80-something, had only one-and-a-half friends. The son laughed and said father what do you mean “one-and-a-half”? How can you have half a friend? The father said, let's test our friends and see which one of us is right. The son agreed.

The father devised a plan to test all the son's and his own “one-and-a-half” friends. He sacrificed a lamb and placed the carcass, blood and all, in a cloth sack and told the son we will carry this to the home of each friend tonight and say we were about to get robbed by a man, but we killed him in self-defense, placed his body in this sack, and need a place to hide it for the night until the next morning. The son agreed and they went to each of the son's friends houses but each time these so-called friends heard the story, all the help the son got was a door slammed in his face until all of his many friends had rejected his plea for help.

The father then said let's go and ask my friends for help. The first house they got to, the friend said, you know you are my good friend and you are always welcome in my house, but please don't bring that sack in, please go hide it somewhere else. The father thanked his friend and said he couldn't do that and left. When they got to the second friend's house, he pulled the father and son into his house and said, don't worry you can stay here as long as you like, you are safe here. Of course, then the father explained to the friend that this was all to teach his son a lesson. He turned to his son and said, now do you see how a man can have one and half friends?

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