With all the ills facing our world, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m suffering from a case of toss-pillow envy.
A toss, or throw, pillow is a pillow whose sole purpose is decoration. Toss pillows may pick up the color scheme of the sofa, but if you decide to sit down, you often toss them aside — hence, the name.
Likewise, if they highlight your bedroom’s decor, you move them from the bed each night and lay them by the nightstand. They are not your real pillows. Heaven forbid you catch your husband, after an afternoon of mowing, taking a snooze on the sofa with his sweaty head on your toss pillow.
In other words, toss pillows are useless.
But they’re so cute. Much like that bracelet or shirt that you can’t live without, toss pillows are adornments that serve no purpose except proclaiming your sense of style and fashion.
Or maybe, as a recent article in ignatianspirituality.com suggested to me, they are part of the “triangulation of desire.” Yeah, that’s kind of a weighty concept to apply to a toss pillow, but a lot of things we desire are pretty mundane.
On a recent trip, a relative insisted we sleep in her master bedroom. She has a charming, modest old home and she’s a great decorator. To sleep in her bed, we had to remove several toss pillows in appealing shades of grey and yellow. They added to the room’s warmth, tidiness and color scheme. I found myself surveying the house for ideas. I found myself thinking, I need to up my game when I get home. I need more toss pillows.
Toss pillow envy was setting in.
The spiritual writer Tim Muldoon, writing on ignatianspirituality.com, says “the late philosopher Rene Girard suggested that human desire is ‘triangular,’ meaning that it arises not from any intrinsic value in the object of desire, but rather we imitate others and experience desire for the same things they desire.”
Advertisers and marketers understand this. Preschool teachers see it every day, when everyone wants whatever previously ignored toy Johnny has. Guys want those new, slim fitting suits. Everybody wants to be with the popular kid. Decorators advise us what shade we “need” for our walls this year.
“We learn what we want by looking around at what others want,” says Muldoon.
This wanting what’s trendy, what others want, is not necessarily an evil thing. But it’s insidious enough that we should be on guard against it. We should certainly be vigilant and aware of it.
For one thing, it’s materialistic at a time when consumerism is helping to destroy our planet. For another, it moves our focus away from what Muldoon calls “authentic desire” — the need for God that is at the root of our emptiness, our want.
It also interferes with our stewardship of resources. Our first fruits should go to our parish, to Catholic Social Services, to Catholic Relief Services, to our Catholic school or other good causes. If we give only after we’ve satisfied those desires that we’ve picked up from ads or friends we are imitating, we are filling emptiness at the risk of being inauthentic.
Each day, we’re confronted with triangulated desires and with choices. Perhaps we should remember to ask, “Why do I want this? Do I need it?”
I think of Dorothy Day, boarding a Greyhound bus in her simple clothing and pulling out her stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich so it wouldn’t go to waste. Nothing about Day made the fashion mavens notice her. Maybe we should desire what she desired.