The Memory Of Benefits, And The Forgetting Of Offenses

Some weeks ago I sought to make contact with two old friends I had known in the early 1990s.  I had not spoken to either one since about 1993.  This kind of thing is always an uncertain proposition, as you can never really be sure how a person has changed over the years.  Sometimes you may find that the person has little enthusiasm for reconnecting; in some cases old friends may have changed beyond all recognition.  But in spite of this I was not deterred:  my experiences in doing this sort of thing have always been very good.

So I hunted them down on Facebook.  Facebook may get a lot of criticism, but it at least has the merit of functioning as an internet “yellow pages.”  And I found them quickly.  Dialogues led to phone numbers, and I called them; they both had careers and families, and I was very happy to know that they had done well for themselves.  Of course it is not fully possible to go back in time and “recapture” eras that have receded into the mists of time.  But my real motivation was this:  I wanted to thank them.  I wanted to thank them for having been my friends.  This may sound strange to you, or overly sentimental, but it does not matter.  I have since come to realize how short life is, and I wanted to express my appreciation for their having taken me all around Atlanta, for all the times we went to nightclubs there, for all the adventures that young men pursue, and for everything else.  I did not want to leave those feelings unsaid.  I could tell that they were moved, even if they did not really verbalize it.

I think it’s important to do things like this, especially as you get older.  You could depart this earth at any time; none of us knows when, but we all know that this is a certainty.  It is an inexpressible feeling–powerful beyond words–to be able to do this.  I did something similar last May, when I traveled across the country to a reunion of my old college ROTC group.  I needed to see my old commanding officer after all these years, a man who had served as an outstanding example to me in my youthful ignorance.  I took him aside and told him how much I appreciated what he had done for me.  It was something that needed to be done, and I did it; and I thank God that I had the chance to do it before we had both sloughed off this mortal coil.

Affection rightly earned will endure forever.  The blessed Petrarca (how learned and wise he was!) meant just this when he spoke the following passionate words in a 1352 letter to quarreling friends Giovanni Barrili and Niccola Acciaiuoli:

“Love conquers all” is a statement very much true.  Make this next line true in your situation:  “Let us surrender to love.”

I pray you to surrender yourself, most tender hearts, surrender to that which wild animals yield, that which barbarian minds yield to, which the inanimate elements obey.  Obey it, I ask.  After you have surrendered to it, everything will surrender to you.  Do not cover your ears; do not avert your eyes.  Do not harden your soul, which a just love is filling with better ideas…Nothing distinguishes an ignoble spirit from a noble one with more certainty than love…

You may have noticed, in your own life, that time tends to obliterate the bad memories, mercifully permitting us to hold on to the pleasant ones.  It is very good thing that this is so.  Even if the bad memories have lingered, we must, as Petrarca says, “eradicate them utterly from the depths of our hearts [illud penitus ex imis precordiis abolete].”  The good things persist, and the bad must fade away.  He says:

There are two things that make permanent friendships and confer a tremendous light on excellent spirits:  the memory of benefits and the forgetting of offenses.[1]

And as a matter of practice we must follow our truest, deepest instincts.  He exhorts his two friends :

Go, therefore, with passion to the place where your noble ardor calls you.  Follow your very best inner convictions.  Do not block your noblest instincts.  Do not, as the Apostle [Paul] says, “extinguish your spirit”; it is necessary that you love each other.[2]  It does no good to resist it; the power of Nature herself demands you be friends.  Virtue pleases us even in our enemies; it delights and pleases itself wherever it may be seen.  It is impossible for it not to love itself.  The root of friendship is a similitude of habits; kinship among bad men is built on an unstable base and is fleeting; but that between good men is known to be unlimited and eternal.

We hear so many voices chattering about things that are outside of our control:  “migrants,” “collapsing societies,” and similar things.  Better would it be if we could remember that we control only what is in our limited amplitude of influence.  Its span may not be large, but if properly mastered and tamed, it can exert a tremendous influence.  “Disaster escapism” does not change the reality that we must look in the mirror every morning, and that the clock of life is always ticking.

Those who complain about collapsing nations and societies forget that no society has a right to immortality.  And even so, does any society truly “die”?  The present is really only the past rolled up before us in a concentrated form.  The classical writers have more readers now, in the present day, than they ever could have imagined in their own time.  In some sense, nothing has been lost.  The knowledge has changed form and appearance, and has been replanted in different locations.

The enterprising man, the wise man, will always be able to pack up his tools and belongings and start over wherever he wishes; he is not deterred by fear-mongering or depressing defeatism.  He carries his own civilization with him, on his back and within his heart, and it can never be taken from him, even though he may have to walk through the contours of Hades itself.  He feels the unity of existence–the essence of love itself–in everything he does, and patiently accepts his role in this unending drama.



[1]  Duo haec sunt que et perpetuas faciunt amicitias et magnum claris animis lumen adiciunt:  benificiorum memoria et oblivio offensarum.

[2]  This refers to I Thessalonians 5:19.  Petrarch says Nolite, quod ait Apostolus, spiritum extinguere; ametis invicem necesse est; nequicquam obluctamini; ipsa vos amicos efficit vis naturae.