“…the absent are present, the poor are rich, the weak are strong, and—even more difficult—the dead are alive.”
Cicero, On Friendship
In our times the issue of presence deserves special attention. What constitutes real human presence?
Too often, it seems, those who are present in body are not really present to those around them. We might consider how we can better be-with the people we are with in body.
But here is something different. Cicero suggests that by the power of friendship a person can be present even when absent in body.
The remarkable reality of being present even when absent, through friendship, can help us think more clearly about personal presence in general.
The presence of a friend is effected by the interior dispositions in both of the friends. I am present to you because a) my attention and my will are focused on you, and b) you are aware and feel my attention. And this is so, even when I’m not present in body. Indeed, this is always the essence of personal presence: being-with someone by attention and by a willed love.
When in physical proximity there are bodily signs–including actions we perform, and other actions we do not perform–that embody and express our presence. When not in physical proximity, we can continue and maintain this presence–first and primarily through the same interior dispositions, offered as it were from a distance.
We might reflect on how some technologies can bridge certain distances, but at the same time these technologies might actually hinder a deeper presence: both when we are together and when we are apart.
Friendship gives practice in true presence. To practice one is to practice the other, even at a distance. This is not magic; it’s much better. This is yet another instance of how true friendship, exercised intentionally, unleashes a potent force for human life.
Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is the great Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher.
Image: Albert Anker (Switzerland, 1831-1910)
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