Philip Slater, the author of The Pursuit of Lonliness
spoke in the early 70's about the fact that we all share a common set of what he referred to as "secondary needs" -- those needs just below the basic needs -- hunger, thirst, shelter and sex - and he described these secondary needs as
1. the desire for engagement
2. the desire for community
3. the desire for dependence
He posits that the frustration of these needs is so great, that they threaten to become primary. He describes a culture that deliberately builds exactly what will deny us access to what we need. He says "One assumption underlying this book is that every morning all 200 million of us get out of bed and put a lot of energy into creating and recreating social calamities that oppress, infuriate and exhaust us."
I have been thinking in a different way lately about people I have started to call "The Disconnected" -- people with no attachment to nurturing communities or families. Some of those people are obvious -- the street people, often the elderly, the victims of war, victims of disaster. I see them as cut loose in some way -- like the astronaut in 2001 A Space Odyssey floating at the outside of the spaceship saying to the computer --"Oh HAL...HAL...Let me in!!!" And old HAL has no intention of inviting him back in. Eventually the spaceman will just float off. Into the void. Bye Bye. No trace. No reminder. Very tidy.
In NYC, a man is standing on the corner, eyes vacant, coat threadbare. On a sunny Sunday like this one, many years ago, his parents held him proudly at baptism. The congregation agreed to uphold his life. He belonged to someone, to many. They claimed him. Would they now?
The 19 year old crack addict hooker was someone's darling girl, blessed event. She had a First Communion dress as white as snow.
The old woman, muttering to herself, used to be the beloved of a soldier, long ago dead on foreign shores. She was his sweetheart, and she knew for a while that she was loved and treasured.
The man who hits his child -- the woman who steals from the store -- the wounded refugees of war -- the ex-con who cannot get a job -- the battered women at the shelter. Each with a history. Each probably with some moment of being connected somewhere - belonging somewhere. Each with a bris, or a bar mitzvah or a baptism or a naming ceremony or a birthday party. Each with a warm holiday, a teacher who liked them, a friend on the block.
Everyone has a list attached to their souls, however fragile, of people they used to belong to -- places they used to belong to -- communities they used to belong to. Our souls are like old-time-luggage, with glued on labels of where we have been, whose we have been. Some of us get to keep belonging, and we may even have our histories roll forward into someone else's future. Others of us are not so lucky.
Or, maybe a better image is that of a ribbon from our souls to the persons or places or communities where we "belonged". These soul ribbons can snap in the air - sometimes without us even seeing it coming. WHAM -- we are disconnected - snip, snip, snip
and the little ribbons flutter away, becoming less than they were yesterday. Surprise, someone died - Snip
. Surprise, Snip
. My life knows some of this snipping, as do all of ours. But my snips are ordinary -- divorce, cancer, loss of family members to death. Ordinary things, and I still have so very many ribbons left.
But what of those that do not? How many baptisms have we attended, for example? Do we know where all those people are now? Yet, at those ceremonies we pledged to support their walk in faith, to be part of their community, to carry a ribbon with us that was attached to their soul.
Philip Slater speaks of these secondary needs for dependence, engagement and community in secular terms -- but they also read out as a need for "grace".
And is he right?? - Is he right to say that our institutions, those mostly cherished institutions that we have built around ourselves, these institutions created to honor that which is best in us - those very institutions may well make it harder
for the Lost to become the Found, for the Disconnected to become the Connected? How do we lose so very many of these children of God?
May Almighty God have mercy on our souls.