E pluibus unum
One of the luxuries of aging is that I am learning to allow myself a bit of nostalgia. As we have sifted and sorted through possessions in preparation for this year’s move, we’ve been engaging in a much wider process of sifting and sorting through memories. Trying to manage the volume of photographs and organize them into forms that make them accessible to others has been a huge challenge. At some point, we simply boxed up photos to be sorted later. Now, after a month of settling into our new home, the time has come to take those boxes one by one and go through their contents. We have the advantage of computers with access to the Internet and scanners to transfer images to digital storage. Of course not every photograph needs to be stored. We have photos that I cannot identify the subjects. There are others that are blurry and poorly framed. There are duplicates.
Sorting through the old photographs is a fun trip down memory lane for me. I’ve found photos of our children when they were the ages of our grandchildren. I’ve even found a few photos of ourselves when we were that age. I don’t know how interesting these are to our grandchildren, but it has been fun for me to show them some of the pictures and tell them some of the stories.
The job would be overwhelming if I had to do it all at once. Instead, I’m going through the pictures little by little, scanning and organizing a few when I have a little extra time and then leaving the task to pursue other chores during the day. I try to make a little progress each week so that I can tell I’m going forward, but I don’t have any set timeline for the process. There are plenty of other things to occupy my time and I’ve long been a person who likes to have several jobs going at the same time.
On the other hand, retirement has meant a huge change in schedule for me. Retirement in the seasons of Covid means I’m spending a lot more time at home. I do go to our son’s farm and work in the shop some days, but those days are not like the 12 and 14 hour marathons that were a part of my working life. I have time in the evening to sit and read a book. And I have time to sort a few photographs each day.
Looking back, I am struck by the number of photographs of my family in which we are wearing “family shirts.” I don’t know where the idea began, but I do remember that we often were told which shirts to wear on which days. We had several sets of matching shirts - enough that we could wear different matching shirts for every day of family camp. Our mother sewed a lot of our shirts and I suppose that it was simply cost effective to purchase large amounts of fabric. But there was a certain family pride and family identity that went with the shirts. We also had shirts that were sewn in factories and purchased at the store that matched. One photo I found has the whole family in matching striped shirts except for me. I have on a striped shirt, but the colors are different. I don’t know if the store simply didn’t have my size in the right color or if I was rebelling that day.
Family identity was important to use. We learned that it was important for us to play a role in our family. Being a part of our family was a privilege and a responsibility. We had to stick up for each other. I had to be a role model for little brothers. We had to watch out for each other. Family shirts were often a part of family travel - it made it easier to identify which children belonged to our family.
Somewhere in that process I learned the values of unity and diversity. We were not the same. That was made very clear to me as the first boy in a family that already had three sisters. But we belonged together. Over and over again, my father would answer our “why” questions with “because you are a part of this family - and you can’t resign from a family.”
When we went to school and learned that the motto of our nation was “e pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. It was, to us, more than a quaint Latin saying. It was a moral imperative in our family. Learning to live together as brothers and sisters meant respecting our differences, but always having to deal with those differences to be one family. I believed then and still believe that this is critical not just for families, but for our country as well. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “We will either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” I believe that it is bigger than family. It is even bigger than one nation. I believe that it is God’s plan for humanity - that we learn to live together with all of our differences as one human family. We don’t become the same. We don’t lose our integrities. We learn to live in significant relationship with one another as children of God, made in God’s image, with all kinds of differences and varieties.
Part of growing up is learning that we don’t always get our own way. Other opinions and view points are important. We don’t always agree. But disagreeing doesn’t meant that we can discount the importance of the other person. We can’t discard those who are different. “You can’t resign from a family.” We are all part of the same human family. Learning to live with difference is called maturity. The apostle Paul, in his letters to congregations of the early Christian church, wrote of God’s call to maturity in Christ. “When I became an adult, I laid aside childish ways.”
We aren’t going to all get into our family shirts, hold hands and sing Kumbaya any time soon. But we can work at growing in maturity and learning to live together with those who are different from ourselves.