Thursday 18 July 2019

Our friends offer us a great sense of safety and comfort

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

I went to see 'Stan and Ollie' in late January. I had seen actors Steve Coogan and John C Reilly being interviewed on 'The Late Late Show' and they did catch my attention.

Over the years I have seen bits and pieces of Laurel and Hardy films. They were black and white and from another era. They were funny. Englishman Stan Laurel and American Oliver Hardy were at the top of the film industry between the 1920s and '40s. It could be described as slapstick comedy, Laurel, the childlike friend of plump Hardy doing silly things to make people laugh.

Along come Steve Coogan and John C Reilly telling the story of the dynamic between the two men. Laurel and Hardy gave great entertainment with all their stunts, codology and gags. But these two stage clowns were the best of friends in real life, a friendship that lasted to the grave.

After Hardy got sick and could act no longer he was replaced by another actor but it turns out that Laurel was simply unable to work with him and Laurel never acted again after the retirement of his friend Hardy. There is great acting in the film, smart one-liners but above all, at least for me, it is a film about friendship.

It's a mark of a film if it sets you thinking about something and since I've been to the film I've been thinking about friendship.

You can scroll through zillions of quotes about friendship but surely it's only when you have been in that place that you know what it means.

I remember a friend with whom I walked in the hills, who has unfortunately died, was nervous how we used the word. He felt it was a most misused word. I still remember him saying to me one day: 'We meet someone on the street and the next day we are friends. But that can't be.' He had a point.

Anytime I log on to social media and see the word 'friends' I'm reminded of my friend and wonder what he would say of the social media phenomenon. His understanding of friendship complements what Aristotle said about it - 'A friend to all is a friend to none.'

Maybe we should make more use of the word acquaintance than we do and reserve friend for those special people in our lives. We can count the number of friends on our fingers. It's often said that we can't choose our family but we can choose our friends. It may sound somewhat harsh, even sad at times, but it's true.

In wedding speeches brides and grooms regularly say that their new spouse is also 'their best friend'. It's a moment that catches attention. It stresses the depth of their relationship.

Is there ever any explanation or rationale that brings people together? Of course there are all sorts of reasons. But when friendship kicks in we know exactly what it means. And when friendships break down we know that trauma.

Stan and Ollie have their difficulties with each other. There are misunderstandings, times when they don't express their inner feelings to one another. There's jealousy, competition. But their friendship is stronger than all the obstacles thrown their way.

The saying that a dog is a man's best friend captures the idea of how unconditional friendship is. It's never contrived. Our friends offer us a great sense of safety and comfort. We enjoy one another's company. And that's so well portrayed in 'Stan and Ollie'.

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