E pluribus unum—Mysticism or Magic?

As a child I always had a warm, fuzzy feeling when I saw “E pluribus unum”—on coins, dollar bills, or elsewhere. It was another of those bromides from growing up—“Love one another,” “Do unto others as….” They were like road signs for living—somewhere in between a command and a nudge. With E pluribus unum, I felt an urge to submerge my self into my group so that I didn’t stick out. From many, one.

From church choir to marching band, from basketball team to Boy Scouts, I daily encountered this ideal. While I have a very strong sense of self, I know that when I choose to be a part of something bigger than me alone that I must blend in and momentarily abandon that sense of self.

Like the bands of a rainbow, none more important than another.


Like the hoopsters in Hoosiers, who must pass before shooting.

Like the players in a quartet, who must match in intonation, vibrato, dynamics, and rhythm, as though they were clones of one another.

Like a chorister, who must be as selfless as a minnow in a swarm of other minnows, as though they were a family of 20 identical twins with interchangeable, indistinguishable voices.

Like Blue Angel jets in formation, or swimmers in synchronized array.

It is not that we must always be selfless, but that we know when to blend in and when to stand out. Clearly our politicians would benefit from experience in blending in—they seem so threatened when urged to be bipartisan.

Making one from many is both mystical and magical. It is mystical inasmuch as I feel awe when it happens. It is magical in its unpredictability—you strive for it–blending, blending, blending–and finally it happens. My choir director says, “Listen more than you sing.” E pluribus unum.

As my wife prepares for surgery, my hope is that her surgical team will be just that—a team, and not a bunch of superstars—all attuned to one another and moving together in a complex dance of life—one leads now, then another, as necessary, with leading alternating with following as egolessly as night yields to day, as alto blends with bass, as the passer’s assist blends into the shooter’s two points. And from the team’s many, my wife made one.

And, of course, I must end with the words of my friend Lee who told of the Buddhist monk requesting of the Coney Island hot dog vendor, “Please make me one with everything.”

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