Where is home for you? As you know, we are back in Houston now and I suppose it’s as much home for me as anywhere else. Our neighborhood looks like it could be in the area I grew up in, except for occasional (and personally offensive) palm trees. When I first moved to Texas, though, I was under the illusion that I was actually moving within the United States. My collection of burnt orange apparel and accessories ballooned. Singing “The Eyes of Texas” three times during a dinner was the new normal. And that is when the anomie started.
What is that, you might ask? The term was coined by a French sociologist and, basically, it is a type of chic depression. At its worst, anomie is the sense of isolation, separation and lack of understanding of societal norms and customs that can lead to depression and despair (see, Durkheim’s Suicide). Smoking Gauloises makes it much worse. In a milder form it is the sense of isolation associated with homesickness, like college students adjusting to a dorm for the first time.
A quick example. My friend, Carmel, arrived in Houston from San Francisco around the same time I did. I had made my peace with the menu at every event we attended consisting of barbecue or fajitas, while Carmel was still longing for the foodie paradise of the Bay Area. Looking down in frustration at a buffet one evening, empty plate in hand, she exclaimed, “What’s with the brisket?” What is with the brisket indeed. Puzzled glances came from the native Texans around us. What else would one eat for dinner? And that, my friend, is anomie.
For me, life in Austin was even harder to connect with; it was like I living on Mars. The offensive critter population alone left me in a constant state of anxiety. Texans have a saying about their ranches: “Everything out there will bite, scratch or sting you.” This is fun for them. Californians like moving to Austin because the topography reminds them of Southern California and the cost of living is much lower. Then they realize (1) it’s really hot and (2) there’s no ocean. Most of them are mollified once they find the In and Out Burger and Trader Joe’s.
Even going back to the DC area where I grew up has changed. While I still enjoy it and there are still familiar things there, it is not my city any more. Nor do I expect it to be frozen in time for me. Of course my actual childhood home doesn’t exist anymore either. The 2100 square 3-bedroom ranch house on the nice lot that held all my early memories was razed last summer to make way for a 20,000 square foot chateau.
It occurred to me while living in Austin that maybe there was a purpose behind all this. As humans we crave connection to a place, to other people but our first and strongest connection should be to God. My sense of disconnection there led to a lack of distraction that found me at church much more often, seeking meaning and God. Also, it is hard to physically get out of Texas and Austin. Getting out of the state from Austin and going anywhere but Las Vegas pretty much requires at least two planes or an hours long car trip. God really wanted me to be there. I could feel at home in the Mass, once I got used to all the hand holding. That was a wake-up call even I could get. What started as a desert experience ended up being a fruitful time of spiritual growth.
Another piece I read about spiritual anomie (which is much more eloquent) equated this sense of longing for home with longing for heaven. We want to get back to paradise after time served in our fallen world. And I don’t think this is a bad thing. Homesickness, longing, anomie – these can all motivate us in our faith. We can feel at home anywhere if we carry our Father’s house with us (wearing burnt orange is optional).
Hook ‘em Horns,