“The Coat”


“The Coat”

The other day, I could not find my coat.

I’d sat through one edifying lecture too many, during which I’d had trouble not falling to the floor from sheer fatigue. Afterward, famished, I’d stopped at my café for a late bite. By the time I came home, the coat was nowhere to be found. It was past time to call the places I’d been that evening. I would have to sleep on it (the loss) and try to recoup in the morning.

A word about the coat. It was no ordinary garment. It was French, demi-saison (for spring and fall), three-quarter length, darkish brown in hue and – though I had bought it off the rack – a perfect fit.

“Off the rack” is misleading. The rack in question was located in a small boutique on 89th and Madison Ave., run by two French ladies. Theirs was a shop I could step into with very precise needs:

“I have to give a paper on philosophy of mind—“

“I have to get married—“

 and leave the rest to them.

Some time after the financial crisis of 2008, the shop closed. My reputation for being well-dressed would have shut down with it, except that their garments don’t fray.

Life brings certain upsets against which all the philosophy in the world is rendered speechless.

“Philosophy, schmosophy,

without this coat my particular life is meaningless.”

I feel that way about coffee too, but if you overturn one cup, there is more. But as for this coat, from that shop – nevermore!

By morning, the tear in the fabric of my world was mended. My temple, where I’d attended the previous night’s lecture, had retrieved it. A staff member had said, “Isn’t that Abbie’s coat?” and set it safely in their coat room.

But not mended entirely. Where before I would fling on the coat without a second thought, now the nonchalance (that was actually part of the coat) is gone.

Henceforth, I must regard this ticket to life’s meaningfulness – warily.



About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “The Coat”

  1. M&JD says:

    I LOVE this! Aaah, the start-up subject for another [conversation], from which who knows where we will go? So far we have got Being enwrapped in Purpose(s) as a possible definition of Soul.

    But formative attachments to certain things, which make us US (or our individual life meaningful, as you said) is another layer, which is added as we live.

    • Abigail says:

      Thanks so much, Judy, for wading into these waters.

      Odd, isn’t it. We fear attachment because of the fragility of the things we are attached to — and because of our own fragility, of which this reminds us! The ancient Stoics made a way of life out of this effort to rise above our fragility by means of nonattachment and of course the various Eastern systems do the same. Picking up from “The Coat,” you are noticing that, when we follow that route, we depersonalize ourselves. Which — despite our fear of loss — still does not seem to be the best thing to do with ourselves. It seems better to become more and more who we really are, like a photograph that achieves higher and higher resolution.

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