In my fifties I started to notice that I was becoming invisible to most people. What I mean is that most people no longer met my eye when we passed in the street or had an accidental coming together in a public place. I first noticed it with men and young people. Even if they had to go to great lengths to not see me they would do so. Then as I aged and lost the status of a profession this general non-recognition spread to most people.
You may know what I mean. If you go to someones house and they have teenagers, they don’t see you if you are an adult. The parents may force them into some recognition of you but they usually make it quite clear that they don’t want to recognize your existence.
As an older woman it seems to terrify any man I meet to acknowledge my existence. I have a feeling that men feel that if they acknowledge me I will then think they find me attractive Having blessedly reached a point in my life where I agree with Gloria Steinem’s dictum that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle I would still like the recognition of my humanity.
It amuses me that when I am going into a store or walking down the street the one person who will meet my eye is an older women. We acknowledge each other with a wry smile that allows us to affirm our existence to one another in spite of the world’s judgement. I treasure these moments.
So what is the point of this reverie? It has made me more sensitive to others that don’t exist. Who are they? People who are unattractive or handicapped or have mental problems or are of low status or like me simply old. I have learned to try to acknowledge these fellow non-beings when we encounter one another. Often times they are so used to being ignored that they don’t even realize I am trying to meet their eye. Sometimes the destitute when recognized ask me for money which is a grace from God if I can help them. What I give them isn’t enough to really make a difference and may even be used for drugs or alcohol. None-the-less I hope they felt recognized in a simple friendly human glance and a smile.
One of the benefits of being invisible is that it can result in humility. After my husband died my invisibility made me feel desperate to prove that yes I exist. When I wasn’t acknowledged by others I despaired of ever being significant to anyone. This contributed to my suicidal desire. I wonder if Job felt that way? Especially since he was the richest and most important man in the land. I wonder if the most difficult thing for him wasn’t the loss of health, property or even his children but simply the loss of his identity? He no longer was who he had been. He was a man sitting in a garbage dump scraping his skin as it peeled from his body. He couldn’t give lavish gifts to his children even if they still existed. He had nothing. Maybe he thought his children wouldn’t have wanted to know him if they still lived since he had sunk so low.
The turning point for me was that moment when I knew that I exist even though the world may not care. I exist because I was created by God who loves me and sustains me. At that point my prayer became like those wry smiles I exchange with other older women, God and I share the recognition that I exist because he loves me and that is simply reason enough.