We All Need A Pilgrim Rick – This Is Us, Episode 8

Ugh. It keeps getting better and better. How is that? I don’t know. And I don’t care. I thoroughly look forward to my Tuesday nights on the couch and it brings me true happiness – and tears. It brings me tears. Every week. (Sigh…)

I thought about what I wanted to write about after tonight’s eighth episode and my heart turned toward secrets we keep from those we love. My thoughts feel unsettled and incomplete at this point and I believe next week I’ll have a clearer idea of what is swarming around in my head, especially after more of the storyline is revealed. Plus, it’s dark. I feel sadness – despair. On this Thanksgiving week, I’d rather turn my thoughts toward light. Goodness. Gratitude. Happiness. Joy. Family. So let’s focus on that as I reflect on last night’s episode. Let’s focus on how symbolic it is that this is the first episode when the adult family (minus Jack because he is deceased) are gathered together in one room.

Recently I attended a small lecture about parenting and a topic that was discussed was the importance of not fearing the culture around us. We don’t have any control over so much that is around our children. We can’t fully protect or shield them from what is in the world and what they are exposed to from day to day. But. What we can and should do is create a strong family culture.

Why should we intentionally try to create a strong family culture? Because when our children feel lost or overwhelmed, they know where they can always find stability and consistency. They know what to expect at home, or when they are with the people from home. They have an anchor. In addition to all of this, and because of all of this, self-esteem is reported to be higher in children who perceive their families have a strong family culture.

So, how do we create a strong family culture? One of the ways is to establish traditions.

Going from present day to back-in-the-day throughout the episode, This is Us so perfectly illustrates what creating traditions does to a family – how unifying it can be. Family traditions create a familial identity, and for this transracial adoptive family, one past, seemingly horrible Thanksgiving created lifelong unconventional traditions as aspects from that one day were immortalized and relived each year. That, my friends, is no small thing.

In the beginning of the episode, it is clear that Randall is excited about Thanksgiving. He has a passion for this day that seems extremely deep. Perhaps he just loved the memory of that first, strange Thanksgiving they had that set the tone for all future Thanksgivings. Or, perhaps the fact that that one Thanksgiving that took place when he was young, walking miles after a tire blew out, watching a movie, eating roasted hot dogs instead of turkey – all created a tradition that gave him more grounding and more identity as a member of this family. Now as an adult, he wakes his family up early with a smile on his face and a jump in his step; he’s ready for the day. It seems that nothing can dampen his mood. (Well, apparently something can, but we’ll talk about that next week.) When we are shown glimpses of that one, dreadful Thanksgiving, we learn that Randall actually didn’t like Thanksgiving at all. The stress, tension, and reminder that he wasn’t one of the original triplets; he is an outsider. Yet by the end of that fateful Thanksgiving, as things only progressively get worse, he lays in bed, confident that he wants to do this same Thanksgiving year after year.

Now, as an adult, we see all that he puts into recreating that same Thanksgiving for his own family. Though not stranded on the side of the road or staying in a subpar motel, he takes his family on a hike that is exactly 3.4 miles. The family sits around and watches the same Police Academy movie they watched as a kid. A small role play takes place, where Pilgrim Rick comes into the house, fresh off the May Flower, and tells the children a story of his journey to America.

These traditions aren’t just important to Randall, but we see the passion Kevin has for these traditions that keep their family on some kind of solid ground. He is unwilling to pass Pilgrim Rick’s hat onto Miguel, his stepfather, because he was never involved in that first Pearson Thanksgiving. Alongside the mashed potatoes, green beans, and rolls, hotdogs with cheese rolled in saltine crackers sits on the table because otherwise…it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving. And to bring in that essential piece of gratitude, they pass along a ball of yarn as they each share something for which they are grateful. EVERY single one of these pieces are important –essential – details to the Pearson Thanksgiving. These little things we do, these traditions, create strong families with a clear purpose and identity. Every family needs its own Pilgrim Rick.

My family’s Pilgrim Rick may be our annual Labor Day picnic and Sunday dinners at Grammy’s. Yours may be a competitive games of Settlers of Catan. Whatever it is, we need these grounding and stable traditions. It does something for the soul.

Creating strong family cultures does not miraculously keep our children from pain, and it certainly doesn’t fix any of our own human flaws. We will still stumble and we will unfortunately make decisions that may hurt others. Traditions alone will not safe guard our families. We definitely see the Pearson’s come together full of so much love as they participate in this beloved Thanksgiving tradition, but also clearly struggle with certain aspects of their identity. I mean, that’s Randall’s entire story. In many ways, it’s also Kate’s story, and Kevin’s – even Rebecca and Jack have struggled with identity throughout the season.

However, because of the strong foundation that Rebecca and Jack have laid – partially through the family traditions they’ve created – their children have a sense of home. They know where they can come back to in order find the peace that they may be lacking. Or they have enough self-esteem and identity instilled in them that they are able to work through their struggle and with hope and find the answers they seek.

That is why, at the end of this episode, when it all hits the fan…I’m hopeful that over time, this family’s hurt will be healed. Time will tell, but surely a family like this can’t be lost. Or can it? What do you think?