A few week ago at the sermon/bible study group I attend (four or five men, one woman) we somehow strayed into chatting about the need which many men have for male/male friendships.
I've been thinking a lot about this and have come to a few tentative conclusions, (please excuse my generalisations), about why this is so difficult.
1. That men frequently fear intimate friendships with other men, because they find it hard to separate intimacy from sexuality.
2. Lots of male friendships (particularly in groups) resort to banter and teasing, thus side-stepping any chance of deeper conversations. (This is certainly the case within the group of gay men, single and partnered, with whom I hang out. They are good guys, but we are for ever teasing each other).
3. Men have often been taught to be self-reliant.
4. Males tend to be better at giving advice than they are at listening carefully. We formulate our "answers" before the question has been asked!
Generalisations? But of course.
Those of you who hang around with me know that I am a talker. In company I am a compulsive talker! It goes against my grain to listen.
But I am trying to "take the cotton (wool) out of my ears and to put it in my mouth".
Last week I spent some time with a friend, an entirely competent and professional woman, whose boss does not respect her. She is overwhelmed with anger and sadness. We drank tea and coffee and chatted for nearly two hours.
I know her boss, so I utterly understood and empathized with her anger and sadness.
I tried so hard not to give her advice. She is well able to make her own wise decisions, and does not need or want my two cents' worth.
But dammit it was hard. I so much wanted to segway into my "wise male advice giving mode". But that was not the purpose of our conversation.
The purpose is epitomised in one word: EMPATHY. My good friend did not seek or desire my wisdom. She simply wanted to know that I heard her, and that I respected her.
Yesterday evening a neighbour, M-ry A-ne, rang my door-bell and asked if we could chat, I invited her into my home.
She told me about her son R, a thirty something married man, with a three year old son Z, and another child on the way.
R. had a non-malignant tumour removed from his brain last year. Sans medical insurance he and his wife face enormous hospital bills.
Now R is battling debilitating ulcerated colitis, and is once again in the hospital. He is utterly scared about his life and health; for his wife J; for his wee son; and for the yet to be born baby.
They face yet more hospital bills, and the prospect of declaring bankruptcy.
"Would I" asked M-ry A-ne, "visit him in the hospital, and encourage him to pray".
Of course I agreed to make that hospital call, but I promised M-ry A-ne that I would do no more than to listen to R,
I visited him today (it's not easy but priests and ministers are often asked to make hospital calls "sight unseen").
R. had been alerted that I might visit him. He received me graciously (I had never before met him).
He told me his story, and he cried.
I listened to his story and I got weepy. I resisted every impulse to give him "good advice". I asked his permission to pray for him, and he assented to my request.
I ventured to say that if he decided to pray he should simply be honest with G-d: "no nice words, but utter frankness in his prayers".
Please God I was able to listen well to R. today,