Our U.S. Constitution in Article II says the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Before 1947, when the address officially became the “State of the Union,” it was known simply as the “Annual Message.”
I got to wondering this week what might happen if there was such a thing in families. An “annual message” where not just one, but everyone can present what’s working and what isn’t — where the family has been, where it is, where it wants to be.
Alan Alda, who starred in the television series M*A*S*H, once said each family is a unique work of art — that no one has ever created a family unit with those exact people. It’s true. There’s such a mesh of personalities and life experiences that make up individual families. Yet most of us have commonalities such as wanting to be respected…to be listened to and understood…to be appreciated.
Several years ago I was discussing first memories with a group of teens. For many of us that early memory is associated with family. I wasn’t quite three years old when my mother called me over to the chair where she was sitting to feel the kicks of my younger brother in the womb.
However, one of the teens in the group held a very different memory at about the same age. She remembers being at the beach, getting sand in her eye — running crying to her mother who was sitting on a blanket smoking. Her mother stabbed her in the eye with the lit end of the cigarette saying, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Had I known this was going to be recalled I probably wouldn’t have asked for anyone’s first memory. Yet the bad stuff needs to get spoken with the good. I have found you can’t stuff “stuff.” It finds a way out — somewhere, somehow. Keeping silent has a nasty tendency over time to become an ear splitting shout.
Maybe a “state of the union” gathering periodically would protect the family — keep harm from creeping in before situations and relationships become unsalvageable. It’s not easy to speak up about a grievance, or to hear others do so when it’s directed toward us — much less initiate what it takes to correct the issue. But it’s necessary to the union — so everyone can flourish.
That’s the thing about a family — we’re in it together. Each one becoming a work of art.