Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why We Fight

"And if I fight with a loved one, Lord,
Won't you please make me the winner?" -- Loudon Wainwright III, "Thanksgiving."

Each holiday has its cliches, and each has remora comedians and commentators pointing them out for the younger and less observant of us. Some of the time, they crack wise, sometimes wisely, sometimes morosely. However, the winks and grins come from pain deep enough for trauma. The people out there in the audience have had some pretty bad times at the holidays. What is it about Thanksgiving and family fights, though? Every year, those people called family come together to eat and fight. One of them mentions a past grievance or a present political preference or notice an article of clothing, and suddenly the grown-ups table becomes more emotional and louder than the children's table. Boom, boom, shriek, glower/ We will not stay another hour.

So, how do we get there? We get there by becoming adults. The kinds of fights we have can not take place when we're young. We have arguments of unknown etiology and pessimistic prognosis solely because we have gotten over those old competitions and resentments of youth. Furthermore, we fight inerrantly about the bones of our maturity. This is not as much of a paradox as it seems.

Suppose you grew up bitter at the taste of the bridle. You would go on to assert independence and figure out how to tolerate authority by becoming the authority or by dropping out of the power structure. It would be one of the keys to becoming an adult, for you, to be your own person. Suppose instead that you grew up aggravated and depressed by distant parents. If that were the case, you would survive the burden by becoming self-sufficient or the center of jollity. Sibling rivalry is too various to discuss -- the sisters' vanity battle, the brothers' pounding on each other or tricking each other into trouble -- whatever it is, it will throw one of the biggest obstacles to life at you, and you will have to handle it and neutralize it as you become an adult. You can, as ever, win by fighting or by swallowing the opposition. Whatever your strategy, it will have been crafted very specifically to meet very specific needs.

At the feast, our strategies, all developed like receptors to the antigens of our family, are at the fore, on the skin, in the stare, quavering in the voice, firing the nostrils. We have allergies to our family. Additionally, Thanksgiving is a collection of adults who are not in charge. Being in charge is not merely a long-sought privilege of maturity, but is also the licensing condition for coping with the past. The most placid family get togethers are the ones where each adult is given a task. The delegation of authority leaves each member of the family Executive Vice President of this or that, and that is why the best pacifier to the family fight is having children. When you have kids to manage and control access to, you are guaranteed maturity, guaranteed to be in charge. If, however, you have not or not yet swum upstream, spawned, and survived, or if the children are with the ex-, or just absent, then you are not in charge. You are idle and dependent, and only your personality stands between you and the others.


So, there you are, faced with those burdens and your compensations. If any, and I mean ane ne, of your strategies were anti- the parent/sibling, then very soon you will prove your personal growth by demonstrating how little you care about what that person did. You will attack, in other words, without knowing about it. That's why it will be impossible not to mention how your parents paid her way as an "artist," and why his snort of derision at The Nutcracker at the local theater is surely meant to be an insult to your years as an artist.

Call upon the divine for a victory, because to win the fight to prove to yourself that you closed the holes those people called family made in you is to win an all important battle. Winning means autonomy. It means being whole. It is a fight for a self that you are having, and the fight proves that you have already lost, that some part of you, even if that is the memory of wrongs long done, is owned by someone else.

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