The Meaning Plot

The hardest part after the holidays is seeing off the family and friends I love best. Saturday night on Seattle’s light rail line, it was far too quiet with my brother boarding his flight to DC. So I got to thinking. What does it mean to live in the modern world?

What does it mean to live fractured, isolated lives where geography no longer determines identity?

A mere 50 years ago, the individual faced a very different challenge: how to formulate an individual identity against a backdrop of fixed community identities. The atheist in the Bible Belt. The black man in white suburbia. It was all about the individual who didn’t belong.

But now, none of us belongs.

Migration has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. But never before at this speed. One week, you might be in Atlanta, the next in Denver, and then—a few weeks later—in Dubai on a contracting gig. Even if you don’t travel often, chances are you live in one city and work in another, forever shifting between the cultures of disparate places.

We are again nomadic. And so, identity has become the thing you pack along with your socks and your laptop.

The existential ground under our feet has shifted.

The new challenge is no longer individual identity. The challenge is to make meaning out of our collective displacement.

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