This is one of the first lessons that Arthur taught me: a true friend will tell you when you have spinach caught in your teeth. It may not always be a pleasant thing to do, to let someone know, say, that their fly is unzipped—in fact our culture programs us to believe that it is actually impolite to do so. But when you think about it, that’s quite insane! If I ever have spinach stuck between my teeth when I’m out and about, I hope I have a friend nearby who cares about me enough to tell me.
A true friend will do even more; they will find a way to let you know when you are erring in life: when you’re hurting yourself by the way you present yourself, or by the way you talk about other people, or by the way you’re not taking care of your body.
I thought of this while reading Anam Cara, by John O’Donoghue. He wrote:
No one can see his life totally. As there is a blind spot in the retina of the human eye, there is also in the soul a blind spot where you are not able to see. Therefore you must depend on the one you love to see for you what you cannot see for yourself. Your ‘Kalyana-mitra,’ [a Buddhist concept of ‘noble friend’] complements your vision in a kind and critical way. Such friendship is creative and critical; it is willing to negotiate awkward and uneven territories of contradiction and woundedness.
Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’ in Gaelic. Mr. O’Donoghue’s book is a lovely, extended meditation on a spiritual path of heart: friendship, work, sensuality, solitude, aging, and death.