This has been one of my favorite quotes for as long as I can remember. I suspect Albert Camus, like all of us, had all sorts of friends and acquaintances in his life, but had a strong desire in his heart for the type of friend who would “walk beside”. Those two words represent much. First of all to walk, both literally and figuratively, necessitates time. Relationships take time and at a pace in which they can form and be maintained.
Of the three choices that the author wrote about, the first one, “Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead…” implies a desire for a companionship with equal give and take as far as leadership. Most of us don’t mind leading on occasion in a friendship, but we may tire of the perpetual role of leadership. We want friends who “step up to the plate” of our interests and are not always looking in some other direction, or worse yet feigning commonality. At first glance it may appear that the friend referred to in Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” ‘always walked a step behind’, however Bette evens the score with her song.
“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow…” is easy to relate to. Most of us need to desire a friend’s leadership before we will fall in line “behind” them for any length of time. The desire to follow can be stimulated because of a mutual interest in a subject, friendship, humility and ease with teamwork. The friend who leads well on occasion does not insist on always leading, has no hidden desire to compete, and does not carry arrogant airs. Reasons we may not want to follow include: usurping of a role, competition, arrogance, impatience, or general unkindness.
“Walk beside me and just be my friend.” Here is the ultimate friend. One who can just walk beside. This one is content to enjoy horizontal relationships the way God intended, is not consumed with position and clout, and is not a “respecter of persons“. These are the friends to value and to be content to walk beside in glorious friendship. In these friendships we can share loyalty and confidences as Jesus has done with us who are His. Here we are motivated to take our eyes from our own selfish goals to lift up another in mutual goodwill. As in Bette Midler’s friend, “you were content to let me shine”, and in friendship on this level, it’s always a horizontal matter in some way or another, thus the song.
In “The Four Loves”, C. S. Lewis points out that just as Christ has chosen us for Himself, He has also chosen us for each other, “The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” While it’s impossible for those who walk perpetually ahead or behind to gaze upon the beauty in the character of their friends, it is quite possible, and in fact, likely for those who walk “beside” to indulge in the glory of divine friendship.
In the few friends who I walk beside, and they me, I’ve sometimes seen the beauty and sometimes been negligent. How about you?