I/We Gather Together

By Thursday, feast day, family day, Thanksgiving Day, Americans who value individualism like no other people, will collect around a million tables all over the country. All these complex cells, these men and women, old and young, with different dreams and disappointments, will join again the group they are part of and apart from: their family.

Families and individuals. The we and the I. Americans always travel between these two ideas. They trip from the great American notion of individualism to the great American vision of family.

Well, there has always been some pavement between a person and a family. We are, after all, raised in families…to be individuals. This double message follows us through life. We are taught about the freedom of the I and the safety of the we, the loneliness of the I and the intrusiveness of the we, the selfishness of the I and the burdens of the we.

In fact, the world rewards the Individual. We think alone, inside our heads. We write music and literature with an enlarged sense of self. We are graded and paid, hired and fired on our own merit. Individualism is both exciting and cruel. Here is where the fittest survives.

The family, on the other hand, works very differently. We don’t have to achieve to be accepted by our families. We just have to be. Our membership is not based on credentials but on birth. A friend loves you for your intelligence, a girl for your charm, but your family’s love is unreasoning: you were born into it and of its flesh and blood.

The family is formed not for the survival of the fittest but for the weakest. It is not an economic unit but an emotional one. This is not the place where people ruthlessly compete with each other but where they work for each other.

There are fewer heroes, fewer stars in family life. While the world may glorify the self, the family asks us, at one time or another, to submerge it. While the world may abandon us, the family promises, at one time or another, to protect us.

So we travel daily, weekly, yearly between one world and another. Between life as a family member that can be nurturing or smothering. Between life as an individual that can free us or flatten us. And family can be a place where the I and the we interact.


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