Six weeks before he died, a reporter allegedly asked Elvis Presley, “When you first started playing music, you said you wanted to be rich, famous and happy. Are you happy?” And the King of Rock-n-roll answered, “I’m lonely as hell.” And whether that interview ever really took place or not, I think the answer is true. He was lonely as hell and miserable.
When I was in about the fifth of sixth grade we used to play a bounce-ball game called “four-square.” For awhile, at least, it seemed to be the most popular game going, with kids lined up at break time to take their turn and, hopefully, remain in the game longer than anyone else. Or, even better, never get knocked out at all.
Anyway, one particular day I must have made an unusual ass of myself because, despite the popularity of four-square, someone (and I can’t honestly remember who) said, “Fine, you take it then. I don’t want to play anyway.” And he promptly marched off. The other kids made similar remarks and walked away, too.
And so there I was. I had the ball and four-square all to myself, but no one to play with. And at that moment I could very well have said with Elvis, “I’m lonely as hell.” What did it matter that I had the game all to myself? It wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t even a game anymore. (No solitaire version of four-square! It takes at least, you guessed it, four!)
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-giving medicine…
(Sir. 6.14-16a, NRSV)
Jesus said something about gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul. I think a secondary, kind-of follow-up question to that would be, “What does it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose every friend, every loved one? To have no one with whom to share the gains?”
Besides, it leaves you weak and vulnerable. That day at recess, when everyone walked away, I felt very exposed ~ you know, naked ~ and even a bit frightened. Yeah, scared that I’d lost something very, very valuable and would never be able to get it back. Exposed? You bet! Left alone to the elements, so to speak.
Wise, old King Solomon was right when he said, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold chord is not easily broken.” (Ecc. 4.12, NKJV) Something another king learned all too late. Elvis died very wealthy, very popular, and very, very lonely … and broken.
As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” And I believe it, down to the depths of my soul. You cannot choose blood relatives, but friends…? And what is life without that thrice-fold chord of friendship except darkness, fear and finally death? Indeed, in the words of William Blake:
The bird a nest
The spider a web,
Touché! “Happy the man who has found a friend…” (Sir. 259a, REB) And never again have I wanted the game all to myself. And thank God that I don’t have to say with the tragic rock-n-roll king, “I’m lonely as hell.” I am not, thank heavens! I am not alone and lonely. There is the folded chord, and it holds… It holds strong!