Each of my four kids have gone through a phase of “Momma. Momma. Momma Watch! Watch me! Watch!” To which I reply, sometimes on cue, sometimes with exasperation, “I see you, buddy. I see you.”
Their request for attention echoes in every human heart. The desire to be seen, to be acknowledged, is deep, and its lack diminishes the person.
When children are ignored, their cries quickly turn from exclamation to frustration. On the other hand, the child who is met with an eager response receives more than a glance or passing acknowledgement could ever convey. Think of how gratified you feel, in your own heart, when you are truly seen, when you are acknowledged, when you are understood.
There is a notion that a glance is acknowledgement enough, but I would argue that it is worse than pure disregard. For a glance speaks that you are noted, but not seen as enough to merit full attention, much less unadulterated awe.
This explains why silence in the face of grave evil is met with incredulity. Last night, I saw a story on the news in which a fast food worker was explaining to a customer that straws were only available per request and no longer available in the lobby. A trivial matter, I know, but the customer was very upset and proceeded to grab the worker and pull her across the counter in anger.
And someone recorded this. We live in a time when there is an option that, at the suffering of another, one may stand and record the suffering rather than helping to eliminate it.
Accomplishment requires response as does suffering. Both states of being desire the full-on engagement of the other. Not the glance but the gaze. Not the photo evidence, but the empathy.
For children and for adults, this need to be seen exists regardless of age, state, or even awareness.
Think of the objectivity that priests and religious must suffer. With their ontological gifts, we are often tempted to disregard the person who operates within the trappings of their vocation of servitude and love. How their hearts must long for the gaze of the other who is willing to see them beyond their utility as sacramental dispensaries (or willing ears for prayer requests) into their humanity.
The same can be said of the mother, the father, the doctor, the chef, the mailman. Do we reduce our brothers and sisters to their usefulness, with no regard for their personhood?
When one is acknowledged and receives the gaze of the other, their soul is told, “It is good that you exist.” There is nothing more profound than this.
And you who read this, be at peace in that. It is good that you exist. This world needs who you are. It needs your heart. Your gifts. Your frailties. Your fears. Your love. It is good that you exist. The world is better — my world is better because you exist.
Let us remember these words from Josef Pieper recalled by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in an address to the Roman Curia:
Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately, we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist.