What’s Missing in Neo-Missing

By Guest Contributor

Last week I experienced the curious feeling of missing someone. I actually didn’t realize I missed this person (who I will call Django) until I made what I then thought was an arbitrary and mindless decision to call him. When I hung up the phone I was overcome by an unexpected sensation of loss and surprised myself by applying that precious term of missing to the situation.

The curiosity surrounding missing lies in the duality of its nature. First, it is an emotion that we cannot experience independently. Unlike sadness or anger which can be internalized, missing needs a direct object whether it be a time of life, a person or a favorite red beanie chock-full of sentimental value (last seen 02/16/13, Palmer House).

The second aspect of missing’s duality is that it functions as both a remedy and a solution. The phone call serves as a perfect example. I called Django because I missed him; I missed him because I called him. Often missing is identified only in the past tense. “I missed you guys!” has become my opening one-liner upon returning home and seeing my parents. But what does that really mean? I missed you, but I’m only realizing it now. I was actually fairly competent on my own. It seems like a complete waste of emotion. But that’s only for the emotionally dehydrated.

I believe that missing, even in its retrospective form comes from a genuine place. It’s not easy to generate an organic missing from scratch. And why should it be? Social as humans may be, we’ve still got an evolutionary battle to win and it wouldn’t make sense for us to be wired in a way that roots us to things we can’t have. Adaptable individuals that we are, we busy ourselves with the present and the immediate.

But it’s not fail-proof. Just listen to the song “Hey There, Delilah.” As we go about our lives we subject ourselves to an onslaught of stimuli, some of which may pluck you tick-off-the-back-of-a-dog, arms-flailing style right out of the happy present moment. In this uncomfortable state of free fall down Memory Lane, which turns out to be sloped at a sheer 75 degree angle and coated in black ice, we tap into survival mode. Your body computer runs a series of algorithms in an effort to fuse the past and present and get you to some underground railroad installment on Memory Lane. The product manifests itself subtly in a phone call or a well-drafted Facebook message. Eventually it resolves in a simple acknowledgment that takes a variety of linguistic forms including, “I miss you” or maybe “I meeeesssss youuuuuuu.” All that just to pull the trigger to start the cycle again. Perhaps aspiring vegetarians can identify with this phenomenon. Eliminating such divinities as BLTs or chicken parmesan from your diet is an all or nothing kind of deal. Pacifying the cravings with an infrequent “treat yoself” kind of day only refuels the fire and each subsequent craving will come back with increasing desire. In the least cannibalistic way, we have to keep the taste of what we know we miss fresh in order to miss it.

Facebook provides bountiful quantities of these tastes in its Costco-free-sample-formatted newsfeed. So often we are reminded of the things we miss that it’s possible we’re becoming habituated to that unsettling, my-skis-are-coming-apart feeling of straddling the past and present. Mr. Zuckerburg taunts us by refusing to take things out of sight and therefore out of mind, but also treats us by offering an emotional shortcut.

The result is a bloated and somewhat distorted version of missing. French and other languages preserve the weightiness of the verb “to miss” with vocabulary and sentence structure. In English we can miss both the nine o’clock bus and the granola that is no longer available at Proctor dinner. The French came up with two distinct words that more accurately reflect the vastly different emotional states of these scenarios. With regards to the granola, where Anglophones would say, “I miss you,” francophones say “Tu me manques,” which literally translates to “You are missing to me.” Clumsy and indirect as it may sound, it implies a kind of missing puzzle piece image that I think more earnestly conveys the emotion. You were a part of me and now you are gone and I feel emptiness where you once were, it says. A New Yorker comic’s depiction of yin sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed puts it nicely too. Yin is on the phone and there’s a speech bubble reading, “I miss you too.”

I don’t blame Facebook. I don’t miss missing people. Missing is an evolving emotional field. Maybe it’s only the appropriate language distinction that is missing, so that we can better account for the emotional disparity between missing the 9 o’clock bus, missing high school (but only after revisiting a Facebook album titled “STUUDDYY HALLL ’09”) and yin missing yang.

Written by MEREDITH WHITE ’15 of Orinado, Calif.