Ruminations by John McGlynn: Principles
On September 2, 2019 | 0 Comments

August is a special month for Indonesia, a time when its citizenry celebrates the nation’s independence on August 17, 1945 and reaffirms belief in the nation’s five founding principles (“Pancasila”). August is also special for me because that is when I make my almost annual pilgrimage to Glynnspring, my family’s homestead in Cazenovia, Wisconsin. There, every year in the first week of August, the extended family gathers. Not a small family reunion is mine: along with my own nine siblings and their spouses, children, and grandchildren, the families of numerous first- and second-cousins usually join in as well, bringing the total number of “close” relatives in attendance to 80 or more. Much like the melting pot of Jakarta where I live today, the McGlynn reunion represents a melange of spiritual beliefs (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, but also agnostic and atheist); an array of ethnicities (White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic); and an assortment of political beliefs (Democrat, Republican, and Independent). I’ve often wondered what it is that holds this family together. It is principles, I believe.

 

Despite the large number of people who visit Glynnspring during the week of the reunion, because of the size of the family farm (153 acres) and the secluded nature of the valley in which the farm sits, an area that stretches a couple miles from the intersection of Highway 58 and County Trunk I to the stone quarry at the foot of Bunker Hill (whose name came not from that famous battle in the American War of Independence but from a drunken skirmish in the 19th century between the area’s early Irish and German settlers), I am usually able to find time to take a long walk by myself and indulge in the sanity-saving opportunity to be alone, completely alone—something  that never happens in Jakarta where people live cheek to jowl and the thought of being alone is anathema to the general populace.

Some of my favorite footpaths begin behind the barn: one leads to Bone Hollow where the carcasses of cattle killed in a conflagration were disposed of many decades before; another follows the willow-lined creek dividing that section of the farm to Fallen Leaf where an especially beautiful oak tree provides a blanket of shade on which to rest; a third leads to the Ridge Road, which winds its way through a hillside of dense foliage to an open expanse of alfalfa-planted acreage at the top of the hill where the clear blue sky is as close to the earth as it will ever be. As a youth, these sites were three of my favorite places for daydreaming and meditation.

Yet another path, this one starting at the front of the house, is the one that leads down McGlynn Lane to County Trunk I and on up that road to Saint Brigit’s Cemetery on the crest of Bunker Hill, the final resting place for most Irish-descended families in the area.

This year, it was that path I chose to take, and while sitting on the Rego family’s memorial bench while basking in the quietude of that hallowed place and studying the tombstone of my parents, John and Anna Marie, as well as the long row of other tombstones nearby beneath which I imagined an entire convocation of McGlynn relatives to be conversing silently among themselves, I began to think of the set of principles by which my parents had raised their brood of ten. I then thought of Indonesia’s five founding principles and began to compare the two.

  • Belief in God: My parents, especially my mother, was a devout Catholic and I was raised with this same belief, that trust in an Almighty that provides a means for eternal peace. Though truthfully, I can’t say that I continue to adhere to this principle, I do cling to a modified form, namely the belief that no individual is the center of the universe; that a person is just one tiny speck within a much larger sphere; and that only humility and the recognition of the fact that we are all in this together will lead to the creation of a better life.
  • Humanitarianism: I was brought up to believe in the wisdom of being able to turn the other cheek, to treat others as I would like to be treated, to do whatever possible to assist those in greater need, and that selfishness is the bane of human existence.
  • Unity: At the national level, the wisdom of this principle is obvious. Such is the case at the family level as well and, in growing up in a large and diverse family, I learned the importance of fostering and maintaining harmony not only within the family but outside as well.
  • Democracy: A family is rarely a democratic unit; parents usually have the final word. Nonetheless, John and Anna Marie did instruct their children that everyone was equal (at least among the siblings); that everyone had the right to voice his/her opinion; and that one should be willing to accept majority will even while respecting an individual’s right to dissent.
  • Social Justice: Only by accepting the fact that every person is created equal can social justice be achieved. No one person has the right to a larger piece of the pie without first having put in the work to merit such a reward. And that even if you have more than others, that does not make you better than the rest.

 

When retracing my steps back down Bunker Hill, past the stone quarry and the former site of the one-room Elm Grove School as well as the farms of the Mitchell, Neary, and Stittleburg families to my own little piece of heaven, I said a silent prayer of thanks both for having been raised by loving parents in a harmonious home and for having found as an adult another home that holds to similar principles.

John McGlynn
john_mcglynn@lontar.org