“You may never know where you fit, but others will fill the holes in their lives with pieces of you.”– Bonnie Arlen
When I was much younger, one of our parish priests decided to read a book for his homily (sermon). He read “The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein. I suppose it says something that I remember this some thirty plus years later. I’ve mentioned the book before because I find it so extraordinary that such a profound message could be found in something so simple. Obviously, Silverstein wrote a whole lot more and the last time I referenced him, other people included other works and creative efforts I had not seen at that point.
Naturally, the story embraces our brokenness and thus our need for others in our lives. So, it seems a weird juxtaposition to talk about the things missing in our lives as if we’d be better off if they were discovered again. After all, the whole idea of the book is that we are better off not finding those things.
However, with all that’s going on and with the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, my thoughts have been centered on that which we once had and see seemingly slipping away. A feeling is difficult to describe and the absence of a feeling is even more difficult.
I’ve been describing one all week and seemingly longer that that. The absence of shame is both hard to describe and hard to handle. Shame is what keeps us in check. Public shaming is a delicate process. It’s absolutely necessary to keep the guard rails around our society strong and yet some take it way too far. They hold onto it for too long. The key is making sure each person knows they screwed up all the while giving them an out if they are willing to do the work to make the most of the opportunity. Shame and redemption go hand in hand.
Unfortunately, it also goes hand in hand with something else. I think that something else was at the core of the message of Silverstein’s work. That message was a message of interconnectedness. In one of my posts, I led with the line that “I can be someone’s and still be my own.” Such a line drills to the absolute core of our humanity.
When you ask people what separates us from the animals you usually get something like opposable thumbs, a complex set of laws, or the ability to reason. Those things are true to some degree, but the truest answer might be the interconnectedness between us. Animals travel in packs, schools, flocks, and other groups. Some are more compassionate than others towards those in their chosen group. None particularly care for those outside their group. Yet, they do adapt.
Our cat had a recent spell where he was coughing on a regular basis. It sounded like he was hacking up a hair ball but nothing seemed to come out. Our dog became very concerned. He tried to comfort the cat and went to us to fix the problem. Obviously, we couldn’t but the thought that he had adopted the cat as his own was remarkable.
Our politics and our popular culture has been dominated by a man seemingly incapable of any of that. Yet that man didn’t arise in a vacuum. He rose because he reflected enough of us to gain power. He still reflects enough of us because he never quite goes away. He reflects us with his racism, nativism, xenophobia, sexism, graft, and amoral outlook. More importantly, he reflects us because of our unwillingness to do the most basic things for the benefit of others. We can’t seemingly muster the same concern our dog does for our cat.
So, we don’t get a vaccine that could protect society. We don’t wear masks that could protect those around us. That is seemingly new. What we have seen before is our unwillingness to pay our fair share so everyone can have a very basic standard of living and care. We protest anytime someone suggests we do somehting to help someone else. What is in it for me?
So, which came first? The absence of shame could be said to lead to the absence of interconnectedness. The lack of interconnectedness could be said to lead to the absence of shame. Either way, it’s difficult to know whether these things are fixable. Can we cultivate shame? Can we teach naturally selfish people to see other people as an extension of their own self? I suppose we will find out.