Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.
I heard that quote on an episode of Firefly. It sticks in my head because the question behind it is so universal. The question is: How do we know who our friends really are?
We meet people at parties, events, school and charity work. We spend time with them doing things we all like, sharing stories and values, finding common ground. But the question remains: Who is this person? Who are they really? How can I know?
Holding a person over the edge of a volcano tells us very little, except how the person will react when they are afraid for their life. Does this really tell us anything important about character?
But perhaps the volcano’s edge is not lava and rock. Perhaps the edge is found when you are hospitalized, and they sit with you in that cold and sterile place. Perhaps it is when your friend offers his seat on the train. Perhaps it is when your friend buys a tea for a person with no money. Perhaps the volcano’s edge is when they are confronted with a person who is helpless, compromised or in need, and they do not turn away.
Perhaps it is when your friend sees you at the edge of the volcano, takes your hand, and leads you away.