by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
May 16, 2007
TWO FRIENDSHIPS BRACE MY LIFE
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- They embrace me with friendship, encircle me with support for my literary efforts, and although I already consider myself "rich," I am made richer by knowing them. I think of them as brothers, not of the flesh but of the spirit, that abstract realm where healthy relationships never cease blooming.
Measured by our insipid society's definition of "success," both men are successes: respected in their separate fields of medicine and journalism; dedicated family men, contributors to their communities, concerned citizens.
But it is not by such defining that I treasure them. It is because they dare to practice Emerson's contention that "If a man would be a man he must first be a non-conformist." And I would add "At least inside his own head."
The three of us think alike on most major issues, have similar opinions on matters political and religious. We laugh about and bemoan the human condition; we work hard; we think outside the comfort zone; and we have yet to figure out "What does it all mean?"
Both men - and I - talk in terms of groups; of "patients" (plural); of newspaper "readers" (plural); of groups inside of groups, of patients who fall into different groups by way of labels; of a community divided into groups; of a nation defined by the groups within its borders; the secular groups and the self-appointed saintly groups. Men as groups, women as groups; of cultures and the inevitable cloning of humans (which will begin, no doubt, by a group of scientists deciding which "group" shall be cloned first); of groupie-gods and, lastly, the entire group known as humans.
It is difficult to talk, write or even think without sliding into the "group" mode. I do it often, generalizing that "Men begin their oppression of women with a male God." Or that "Most of the women's groups I know don't know or care where Iraq is." And yet, for me, the most sacred word in the entire world of words is "individual." And the greatest good to be found lies in the honest questioning of each individual as to why we feel, think and act as we do - and to modify any non-constructive discoveries.
The greatest gift I can give to any "brother," or to you, is to see both of you as individuals and not as products of your culture, your religious programming, your politics, your skin color, your gender, your profession, or the groups by which you identify yourself.
Individualism: The courage to be self-defined in a society that demands and mass-produces cloned conformists.
In my years of sitting in my office across from one more suffering woman I have often wanted to say "Pretend you are handing me a package marked 'Childhood.' Now hand me your packaged religion. Now, your academic training, your career, another package marked 'My husband, his name, and our children.' And one last package marked 'My suffering.' What do you have left?"
But they have to be guided - slowly - one package at a time, into seeing that what they have left is the wonder of being an individual fashioned out of stardust and capable of handling any expectations or demands the groupie garbage trucks dump on them.
The word "group" is just that - a word. It has no concrete reality. Groups can't think. Groups can't act. Groups can't feel. Only individuals think and act and feel and, even if it is under a groupie umbrella, it is still individuals who are doing the thinking - albeit programmed - and the acting and the feeling.
These two brothers do not necessarily share my belief that all the problems and solutions of the world reside in the awesome singular nature of the individual, and because I value their wisdom I often retreat to my ceaseless ponderings to see if I have it all wrong. I don't believe I do.
Where would we be now in our human history if the primary study of the world family had been one of recognition and encouragement of constructive individualism? In the universal scheme of things, no cosmic God waits to wave a particular group into heaven; no heinous war is fought by groups but by individual men and women who need the false sense of solutions through limited brotherhood; and no court of law tries a group or makes them responsible for your actions.
No group ever wrote a good book. No group should be allowed to write your personal life-song.
Perhaps only poets make so much ado about what passes as very little in the documentation of the human race. Perhaps only we look for and find the soul that lies behind the eyes of every individual. (Groups don't have souls.)
I can't speak for other poets. I know only that I do not treasure my two friends because they are members of a group called "men." I know a lot of men that I don't call "friend." I do not treasure the one because he is a psychiatrist. I know a few psychiatrists and I do not call them "friend." And I do not treasure the editor because he is an editor. I have known many of those but I don't call them "friend" or invite them for tea and crumpets.
No. These two men, whether or not they acknowledge it openly, are individualistic in a world that squirms with discomfort if it can't number us, label us, fold and mutilate us into herd status. We must, after all, be neatly grouped, that we might prove predictable in a world that despises the sheep who dares flee from the fold.
If the song of salvation for the human race is ever written and sung, I'll bet you dinner at the restaurant of your choice that it will be done by someone who - if you look closely - will have the word "Individual" emblazoned in gold and stamped across their forehead.
AR Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews, a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., also writes poetry. She can be contacted at email@example.com or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.