Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Anomie--"Personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals."

Thirty years or so ago a friend called me out of the blue.  She was all over the place in the conversation.  I hadn't spoken with her for about ten years.  While it was and almost always is good to reconnect, I was puzzled by the call.  We ended the conversation and I still was not sure what we were talking about.

A few days later she called back to apologize.  She said she had been out of sorts and was grasping at old acquaintances to become tethered to something. I remember clearly that at one point while explaining the incoherent conversation she paused and, in an exaggerated way, said "I mean it was, A NO MIE."

This is a time of year when anomie can come front and center and gobsmack one leaving a sensation that is something, I imagine, like the after effects of being shot with a stun gun.

One of the positive things about work is that there is something to do, some place to go. At a wedding last April we sat at the old people's table.  I got to chatting with a couple to my left.  He had been conversing with another person across the table who'd asked if he was still working for a rental car company.  He had replied that he was.  His job, it came out, was to take a car from one location to another.  A renter takes a car from one airport and drops it off at another site.  My table neighbor's job was to take the car back to where it belonged.  "Do you like the job" I asked. He said something like, "it gives me something to do in the morning."

The advantage of having something to do in the morning is that you can't spend a whole lot of time thinking about how disconnected you might be from children, spouses, friends, siblings, old lovers, and neighbors whom you were fond of, instructors who made a difference in your life, the rare mensch who you once had the great fortune to run into at this place or that.  The advantage of going to work is that you can get so busy moving a car from point A to point B, such that you don't have time to realize you aren't, yourself, traveling in a meaningful direction. That your time on this planet is limited, and you seem to be driving cars from point A to B metaphorically and have not covered a good deal of substantive distance.

At holiday time the moratorium on work can bring on a sense of anomie. Because it is a holiday the expectation and imagined nirvana of reuniting with happy family members, can compound the sense of isolation when the time--while nourishing to some extent--highlights to an introspective sort that the event is, at best, nirvana light and maybe nirvana not.   Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday, but the deflating realization of anomie can ramrod your head into a wall.

Someone once told me that the secret to happy marriages was soccer practice. I asked what he meant. He said parents who were forever shlepping their kids here and there, and going themselves from one meeting to another, had no time to sit down and realize that the person they had said I do to was someone with whom they had become estranged even when they share the same bed and occasionally might even exchange bodily fluids.

I think Thanksgiving is a good time for all those for whom anomie is a dreaded condition, to touch those whom they have touched genuinely during the course of their lives and respect that this touching is the antidote to anomie.  We have a purpose and are not alienated when we remember that there are those who are or were in our lives who have been as nourishing to our health as a vitamin.  Even when you can not actually connect because of distance, or even death, it is a time to remember how you have been genuinely connected.

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