The Witches

Food for Thought

Planning a birthday party in a pandemic is a logistical challenge. Roxanne toiled over the decision for weeks. In the end, she chose to have multiple intimate dinners at different restaurants as well as one big one at Clinton Street Baking Company with the circle of friends she made when our daughter was a toddler. They refer to themselves as the “witches.”

They originally met at the children’s park in Tompkin’s Square Park and built an ad hoc support system to look out for each other’s kids. It’s a modern substitute for an extended family. Even after the kids stopped playing with each other, the witches kept in touch, like wartime friends.

I suspect the nature of friendship has changed since the days of Aristotle, who defined different types of friendship. Friendship as a support system is almost looked down on as being too utilitarian or transactional. I, for one, make no concerted effort to maintain any particular circles of friends because there are no pressing needs or possible threats for which I would need a support system. Friends come and go like weather systems.

Aristotle thought friendship based on utility was inferior to one based on virtue. He was obviously looking for some type of purity, an uncontaminated essence of friendship, but I don’t think he imagined a world that is so safe and efficient that no support system is required. Given the possibility to be pure, what we find today is that such purity is a mirage. We cannot even know of anyone’s true virtue unless we are shoved into a predicament where virtue triumphs over greed, selfishness, and vanity. That is, in our wealthy, peaceful society, we never reach a point of desperation or despair that would require our friends to demonstrate their true virtue. So, petty differences are enough to ditch our friends and move on. Ironically, the peaceful world we dream about, whether in this life or after, has no possibility for friendship based on virtue.

The witches certainly have their petty differences, but they make concerted efforts to maintain their friendship. I believe that is because the utilitarian needs allowed them to witness each other’s virtue.