Annoyance was the only way to describe it. Day after day this past summer in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I walked six blocks from our priory to the office where I was interning. A normal day would include one or two interactions with passersby asking, “What are you?” or some question about the Church. Besides these fruitful conversations, though, I usually received several half-crazed, half-disgusted glares as people gawked at my habit, looking up and down from my neck to my feet without ever making eye contact for me to say hello. I kept thinking, “Sure, I look weird, but can’t these people mute their expressions a little, or at least look at my face just once?”
Annoyance was the only way to describe it, until I had this thought: women go through this all the time, though on a much more excruciating and constant scale. The objectification of women’s bodies throughout the world is wretched and inhuman at best, and I had just been given the smallest fraction of a percent of a taste of what so many women go through on a daily basis.
Humbling was the only way to describe it.
There’s nothing new here: all the time, people obsess over parts at the cost of understanding the purpose of the whole. In high school, I bought a much more expensive iPod merely because it had a larger, easier-to-read screen. People can complain about a car for only having two cup-holders. The boy in the classic Shel Silverstein poem (“The Giving Tree”) so continuously desires the little things that he never seems to appreciate the whole of life or even the generosity of the tree.
Things are to be used, people are to be loved, and never vice versa. No body type, skill set, or 13th-century garment needs to distract us from looking each other in the face and seeing a child of God, loved by him for eternity.
Taking this further, let’s imagine all that God has given us and ask what “parts” we might be fixating on, things that aren’t bad in themselves but are nothing compared to the end that they serve. In various jobs, do we depend upon others’ recognition, praise, or encouragement? In prayer, are we constantly seeking consolation or waiting for that right feeling to percolate? At Mass, is our mental stare focused on the right hymns being played, the homily being outstanding, or the lady behind me learning to cool it with the soprano during the Sanctus?
It’s a worthy reflection to consider our mental gawking at what God has placed in our lives, lest we forget amidst all the parts simply to look up, and seek his face.