The Evolution of a Friendship Most Unlikely

It is human nature to create and maintain a connection with another human being, no matter who the person is or what the circumstances are that surround him. In the novel The Soloist, author/journalist Steve Lopez recounts the story of an “unlikely friendship which results from his attempts to befriend a homeless, schizophrenic musician named Nathaniel Ayers. Nathaniel, who has been homeless since his 20’s, plays in the tunnels and on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles. After seeing Nathaniel playing a two-string violin in a tunnel, Lopez feels a sense of urgency to help the man, who he later learns had been a classical double bass student at Julliard. In the course of writing about him, spending time with him, and “befriending” him, Lopez learns all about Nathaniel’s life, including his relationship with his mother, his time at Julliard, and his subsequent mental breakdown. Unaware of the possibility for friendship lying at his feet, Lopez continues on his path to try to save Nathaniel.

Besides one’s parents, friends have a huge effect on one’s life. This holds true in the relationship between Lopez and Nathaniel. Lopez starts the “relationship” by discovering Nathaniel and thereafter feels a desire to write an article about him for the Los Angeles Times. As the first article leads to another and then another, Lopez begins to feel a compulsion to spend more time with the homeless man. He gradually assumes a responsibility for Nathaniel, which in a friendship is not necessarily a good thing: a friendship is a two way street, with the partners playing equal roles and both giving and receiving from one another. Also, neither participant has complete control over the relationship nor the right to determine how the other person should lead his or her life. In a friendship, one person should not carry all the weight while the other person has an easy ride because, in most cases, this drags the friendship downhill. This is exactly what happened in the “friendship” of Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez.

Indeed, their relationship was not necessarily a friendship, but more an involvement turned fascination turned obsession by Lopez with Nathaniel and his life. In fact, Lopez never intended for his relationship with Nathaniel to grow into a friendship: “A bum with a violin, living out of a shopping cart and worshipping a Beethoven statue, turns out to be a Julliard alum,” he says initially of Nathaniel (Lopez 10). First off, in the case of two strangers who have just met and as yet fail to realize how huge an impact they will have on each other, how could one use such a derogatory term like “bum” to refer to the other? Respect is one of the keys to an everlasting friendship, and, right off the bat, Lopez shows Nathaniel none: he does not address him as Mr. Ayers even though Nathaniel is older and a complete stranger to him.

On the other hand, Nathaniel does not realize the impact Lopez’s sudden interest will have on him until much later. Nathaniel eventually disappears, showing up only in random locations, oblivious to the fact that Lopez has scoured all of Downtown Los Angeles to find him. Friends must be in constant communication, clearly not the case here. Nathaniel is poor and lives on the streets, so it very difficult for Lopez to contact him. Indeed, if Nathaniel had wanted some kind of relationship with Lopez at this time, would he not have stayed in a location where he could be found, as he later did?

With the success of his articles, Lopez becomes even more obsessed with Nathaniel. He comes to feel a need to be with him at all times, in order to help him in every way he possibly can, but Nathaniel seems only slightly aware of this developing situation . Lopez works very hard to save Nathaniel and change him for the better, providing assistance

Nathaniel later admits he appreciated, but did not necessarily want at the time. In a friendship, it is very important to listen to what the other person wants and to be aware of what makes him comfortable. In this case, Lopez took charge because he believed he knew what was best for Nathaniel. However, what was good for Nathaniel in Lopez’s eyes was not necessarily good for Nathaniel in Nathaniel’s own eyes. When Lopez attempts to move Nathaniel into an apartment and make him a permanent member of LAMP, a homeless shelter, Nathaniel freaks out on Lopez. “I’m not schizophrenic, and NOBODY, I said NOBODY, is going to take me to a hospital… I DESPISE LOS ANGELES. I DESPISE YOU!..I don’t EVER, EVER, EVER want to see you back here again…if I ever see your face again, it’ll be the LAST TIME!” (Lopez 257-259). This outburst/breakdown puts Lopez in check: he realizes Nathaniel never wanted what he did for him. Did Lopez do all this simply to get an article and feel good about himself? Did he completely dismiss the friendship he could have had with Nathaniel? Yes.

Up until this point, a friendship between the two did not exist. In reality, probably with the best intentions, Lopez unconsciously manipulated Nathaniel in order to create the perfect recovery story. The freakout made Lopez realize Nathaniel was human, and as such knew exactly what he wanted: just because Nathaniel was mentally ill did not mean he could not make the decisions he felt were best for him. 

After the tirade, Lopez discovers a new love for Nathaniel, this time a “friendly love.” He starts calling him Mr. Ayers out of respect and does not force anything onto him without his approval. The two become equals, and when two people are equals, a friendship works beautifully. Lopez no longer treats Nathaniel as the subject of his articles, but treats him as his friend. Nathaniel treats Lopez with the respect and patience he deserves. After all, they were two very different people who randomly found each other and eventually created a friendship which was to touch the hearts of millions. When two friends treat each other with respect and equality, not only can they save each other but also strengthen one another. In the end, Steve Lopez probably saved Nathaniel Ayers from being killed on the streets and enabled him to fulfill some of his dreams, while Nathaniel finally gave Steve a window into his life, a great career milestone, and a friendship that changed both their lives.