Disappointing Photo

illustration of woman in red shirt taking a selfie, with a plant behind her - image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

I was at a conference for Catholic writers, and there he was across the room—a writer, nay, a theologian whom I greatly admire and respect. I wandered over to introduce myself and make a little small talk. We talked of God and poetry and the state of the world in under five minutes, and then without thinking, I pulled out my phone and asked to take a selfie.

I cringe now even thinking of it. Even the seconds after I asked, I cringed inside. Because how could I have cheapened the moment like that?

I was really excited to meet him. I wanted to share the moment online and with a friend who respects him too.

And snap.

I ruined it all.

He was gracious. Who knows what he was thinking? He probably was not experiencing the inner turmoil I felt inside. I wasn’t honoring him.

It’s not that each time I take a selfie with someone I am not honoring the person. Sometimes it is truly organic—a moment of sheer bliss that I want to capture for the scrapbook or for looking at on my phone when I am missing a friend.

But this wasn’t that.

I made the moment about me. I made it about showing off and highlighting my great accomplishment of simply walking over and saying hello, instead of the real accomplishments of this great thinker and artist, who guides us to new ways of seeing and encountering Jesus each day.

I thanked the writer, and we parted ways. I slipped around the corner and looked at the photo. The photo looked like any other selfie, prime for sharing on social media: two writers meeting at a conference. Our smiles big. Both of us unsure where to look at the camera. But if I looked a little closer, at my heart, not at the appearance of the photo, I knew my heart was in the wrong place.

I deleted the photo.

St. Paul says to “outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) I know this is where I failed in doing so. I had said I respected that writer but didn’t treat him with respect.

I know the Holy Spirit was there in that very moment, trying to tune my heart to the heart of Jesus. I wish I had listened just a split second earlier.

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay.

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Shemaiah Gonzalez
Shemaiah Gonzalez is a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A. in Intercultural Ministry. She thrives on moments where storytelling, art, and faith collide. Published on Busted Halo and America Magazine among others, she is obsessed with being well-rounded as she jumps from Victorian lit to Kendrick Lamar, from the homeless shelter to the cocktail party. A Los Angeles native, she now lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this very honest reflection. It really gets at something important in our contemporary culture, I think: the narcissism that simple tech allows and encourages us to indulge in. Your whole process of self reflection was spot on.

    Of course I’ve done worse! But you’re voicing necessary words for us all. The rage to turn every moment into a selfie truly abstracts from our ability to engage fully in the moment, especially when with others. losing ourselves in Christ, with others, nature and the world is a better model. Selfies ruin all of that. Yes, losing ourselves really means the moment goes into eternity and leaves us behind, with no one else looking on. Except God.

  2. Shemaiah – I’ve had many a cringe moment – but I think we have them so that when someone has their cringe moment with us we will just smile with the gift of understanding. So someday when someone meets you and wants a selfie with you, you will smile big 😀

  3. Beautiful piece. Thanks Shemaiah. It happens often and everywhere. Referees and umpires in football or cricket are expected to think and than blow their whistle. But like fellow mortals from several other mundane fields, those guys in uniform are caught red-handed for blowing first and than initiating their thought-process. After all we are human first.

  4. I have several cringe worthy moments in life. Looking back at them in prayer, I’ve experienced the joyous unexpected. Asking Jesus where he was in that moment, I encounter his sympathy, encouragement and loving embrace. That cringe worthy moment of regret is flipped upside down into a life giving moment of experiencing God’s love in the unexpected. Jesus is there telling me that it’s embarrassing but it’s ok, you are coming along just fine and I will never leave you.

  5. Shemaiah, I feel sure that most people would have re-acted the same about a selfie and if i am being totally honest wouldn’t have deleted it …………..just yet!!

    Peace.

  6. I don’t get it? Maybe I’m really dumb? LOL What was wrong with what you did? You’re beating yourself up for asking for a selfie? I once met Anne Lamott at the 92nd street Y. I didn’t ask for a selfie but we wound up in the same elevator and instead of just being quiet I proceeded to talk to her. I told her how a book she wrote meant a lot to me because wrote while she knew that forgiveness was essential in her faith, she hated her mother and explained that it was really hard for her to forgive her mom. I told her how I have that kind of relationship with my father. Had I been able to shut up, and had it not been for her book agent rushing her out of the elevator to get away from my rambling, I would have asked her for a selfie. lol So, it’s ok. No worries. 🙂

  7. You are human , too ! I think it was really great of you to delete the photo !
    I really enjoy your writing, thank you !

  8. Shemaiah, maybe you are being too hard on yourself. You are obviously sincere in your disappointment in yourself but it does not sound terrible and maybe was not taking as disrespect. That said, only you can know your true motive and if you felt it was selfish, good for you for discerning that and learning from it. Still, if your desire was to capture and memorialize a meeting that meant something to you, there was probably a respectful way to ask for that and to convey that it was meant as a souvenir of something important. Photos can say “look at me”, often the meaning of “selfies” today. In the pre-digital age it was more often “let’s capture this moment”, a totally legitimate way to preserve special memories.

  9. I love your writings, Shemaiah. You do have a great heart and it shows in everything you write. We all have cringe-worthy moments. I hope to have less, when I take to heart your last sentence…listen just a few seconds more. Thank you and God bless you!

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