Misc: Custody of the Eyes

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When I walk into the Cherry Creek Mall, neurons shift inside my head, and I become aware of all that is lacking in my life.  Sometimes I discover my need and the existence of the item at the same time, as with the ergonomic, immersible, electric soup/sauce whisk I both discovered and purchased on the same day.

“Stainless steel cake pans in seasonal shapes,” I muse as I stroll through Williams-Sonoma,  “Maybe I should buy some.”  Though we always seem to limp through Thanksgiving without a cornucopia-shaped layer cake — or even a cornucopia! — perhaps it hasn’t been as festive as I remember.

“Look at these retro drawer pulls!”  I marvel as I make my way through Restoration Hardware, suddenly seized with a desire to take off all the old knobs and handles in my kitchen and bath and put on new “old” ones.

When I am in a mall, I lose custody of my eyes.  I give over custody.  I mean to take it back.

I know, I know.  The term “custody of the eyes” has you rolling yours.

I come home from the mall and turn on the television.  People I would not invite to dinner stay the night.  They scream at one another about infidelities and paternity suits.  They show me pictures of shoot-outs and stand-offs and stabbings.  They ask the man whose family lies dead if he has any comment.  They tell me I should ask my doctor about a pill for sleeping and waking and everything in between.  They tell me diarrhea, muscle pain and certain kinds of cancer may occur.

I push a button on the remote control and lose custody of my eyes.  I give over custody.  I mean to take it back.

I know, I know.  The term “custody of the eyes” has you rolling yours.  You think its been relegated to the odd web sites like “True Knights Podcasting for Prurity,” (that’s their strange linguistic marriage of “purity” and “prurient,” not mine) or to distant memory.  You suspect, as do I, that too many people believe woman should keep custody of the eyes of both sexes and that women should bear the blame when men give their custody over.

You’re just waiting for the chorus of “Bring in the burqas,” or, at the very least, “the chapel veils.”  And that’s because “custody of the eyes” has too often been translated,  “Sex is bad, and who gets men all hot and bothered about sex?  Women, that’s who.  So, zip it up, and shut it down, missy.”

Sex is in the mix of what appeals to the senses, certainly, but, in our culture, the lust for thumbnail-sized phones and BlackBerrys, for beach homes and Armani suits is what sends young men and women out on a quest.  Faint heart ne’er won fair portfolio might be the poetic refrain of our age.  I suggest this because so many of the young men and women with whom I worked in college ministry were fairly casual about sex, and not so casual about handing over the checkbook.

“My body, sure, why not?”  seemed to be the thinking,  “But my new Saab?  Wow, that’s a commitment.  I’m not sure I know you well enough.”

In an age when we have leased our bodies and imaginations — and cheaply — to the pithy slogan and the thirty-second spot, perhaps its time to reconsider custody of the eyes.

Custody of the eyes does not mean I cannot look.  It does not mean I cannot desire.  It does not mean I can no longer, in that wonderful phrase, feast my eyes — on a good-looking stranger or the eight-burner Viking range with an oven large enough to roast a moose, neither of which I intend to bring home.  It simply means I make the decision when and where and why and at what, or at whom, I will feast.  It means my eyes are in my care, in my trust.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes

I’ve given over custody of my eyes.  I mean to take it back.  I mean to take back what is mine.  And then?  I mean to take off my shoes.

– Melissa Musick