By Matt Shapiro
In the series finale for The Office, there were a number of moments that touched me (yes, I am someone who cries easily at movies and TV). The one I found most moving featured the resident office weirdo, Creed Bratton, toward the very end of the episode. He commented that, “no matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home.” He was talking about his office, but truthfully, he could have been talking about any office, or any place at all where people consistently gather over time. Every place we come together is a place where a home, where community can be built. Whether it’s a workplace, an apartment, a place of worship or a rehab, any location holds the possibility for feeling connected to others and a sense of belonging.
One of the many, many names for God in the Jewish tradition is makom, frequently translated as “place.” On first glance, this seems to be an odd name for the preeminent spiritual being in the universe; why would we call God “location?" I believe the wacky Mr. Bratton spells it out pretty clearly. Each location in which we find ourselves offers the possibility for a relationship with something bigger than us, even if it’s not readily apparent. The workplace in The Office is mundane, inane and, occasionally, insane, but rarely does it seem spiritual. And yet, seemingly each character in the final episode remarks on how their time at work has transformed their life for the better and deepened their experience of the world.
The narrative device here is important as well. The whole premise for this TV series has been the filming of a documentary about this paper company, and the final episode depicts their reactions to the documentary itself after it has aired. Now that the characters have had time to reflect on this project, their reactions are uniformly positive, full of gratitude for the opportunity to see how they have grown over the years and how they have formed deeper connections with each other than they may have initially thought. As most of us, thankfully, aren’t the subject of reality TV shows, we have to find our own moments to take a step back and reflect on our relationships and community, wherever it may be. Only then can we see if we’re truly open to the ways in which we can deepen our time at the places we spend each day, lest the weeks, months, or nine years go by before we’ve noticed whether or not we’ve really built something that’s meaningful, even holy.
Bonus thought, based on a narrative spoiler (if you haven’t seen the finale, and are planning to, don’t read this yet): Unfortunately, I think the main surprising plot development in the last episode goes counter to this whole concept and, in many ways, the main theme of the series. Pam, who had previously been reluctant to go along with her husband Jim’s plans to move into a different, riskier, higher profile job, sells their family’s house without him knowing to leap together into the great unknown. But if there is indeed “a lot of beauty in everyday things,” as she says in the final lines of the show, then why do they need to go anywhere but where they already find themselves? It’s a more dramatic turn of events, but it’s a betrayal of the simplicity and acceptance that are at the core of what’s allegedly being communicated. Jim says just a few minutes earlier, “everything I have, I owe to this job.” So why leave that makom behind in search of something else?