Wednesday, November 12, 2008

All I Ever Needed to Know About Friendship . . .

. . . I learned from reading "Papillon."

The movie's great, but the book is even better. One of the most important things I've ever learned about making and keeping friends is from this book.

If you aren't familiar with the story, Papillon, it's about a French thief, Henri "Papillon" Charriere (nicknamed "Papillon" due to the butterfly tattooed on his chest - papillon is French for butterfly), who is imprisoned in South America, escapes several times, and finally is sent to (inescapable) Devil's Island in French Guiana. Conditions are extraordinarily harsh, as befits (at that time anyway) repeat offenders and escapists. Papillon had made his living mainly as a safe-cracker, but was wrongly accused of murdering a pimp. Once he got put into the "system," he kept breaking out, getting recaptured, and receiving even harsher sentences.

I'll never forget the scene in the movie (and book) where Papillon is standing knee-deep in cold, miserable, muddy water in his cell, along with all the other prisoners in their own individual cells. I don't remember exactly where, but somewhere he had gotten hold of six cigarettes. Well, cigarettes in prison are like gold. They are used as currency, they are hoarded, they are prized because of their scarcity and because, when smoked, the smoker enjoys a rush and feeling of good-will unmatched by anything else available to them.

What does Papillon do? He gives away five cigarettes, and keeps only one to smoke himself. I may be wrong about the number; he may have given away all six, I'll need to re-read the book. But you get the point?

He instantly had five (or six) loyal friends. We all know when someone has given us something of great value. It means something. This was not just "sharing," this was giving up something we'd really rather have kept, for the sake of those around us.

It has an impact.

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