Friday, October 2, 2009
We, the people...
There is a scene in Carson McCullers’ play, Member of the Wedding that I still remember after all these years. Frankie Adams, a very bored twelve-year old was furious with her brother who was soon to be married. So Frankie cooked up a scheme. She selected a beautiful sophisticated gown for the wedding. And she intended to stand down front and literally become “a member of the wedding.” Not wedding party—but the wedding. She wanted her brother and his fiancé and herself to stand at the altar and say “I do.” The brother tried to explain that just was not possible. And Frankie lonely and feeling rejected. exploded. “Everybody wants to be a ‘we’. That’s why I want to do this. I am tired of just being by myself. I want to be a we.” She thought if she could get married with them she would be miraculously transformed from an I-person to a we-person.
Frankie was partially right. Almost everybody wants to be a we. Deep down most of us in the human family want to be connected and tied to others in a special way.
Thomas Friedman in his splendid piece in this week’s New York Times takes up this subject. He asks, what has happened to the we? This is one of his best columns I have read in a long time—and Thomas Friedman has some good ones. It looks like this word, we has slipped from our vocabulary. The stridency, the rudeness and rage pits our group against another. Or closer to home--one person against another.
Joan Chittister in her book on Benedictine spirituality says that one of the primary Rules of Benedict is to be part of a community or a family. She says that one of the most difficult and most rewarding of tasks is to learn to live in community with other people. The hardest task for all of us is to get along in these little battalions we call family. And from this most human of launching pads we begin to move out into a larger world to find meaningful relationships with those we meet. Those that make connections with others are fortunate indeed.
At breakfast the other morning the man next to me ranted on and on about the President and his policies and how he despised the direction the nation is going. He knew we were poles apart in our thinking and yet he kept fretting and fuming. I finally said, “Listen, you know I don’t agree with you at all. We’ve talked about that. But you are my colleague and friend and I respect you and I don’t want our differences to drive a wedge between us. Let’s just declare a moratorium on discussing politics. There is more that binds us together than separates us.” So we put aside our disagreements and enjoyed our eggs and sausage.
This whole discussion reminds me of a poem by Karen Swenson simply called, we. She ends the poem this way:
“One pronoun keeps at bay our guilt
they they they they they they.”