Living In A World In Which I Am Invisible

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.

God’s Final Word to Job

Presuming on God is a dangerous business and I wish not to be guilty of it. By comparing my trial with that of Job I don’t compare myself to the great Job. But I believe we are given the story of Job to understand what it means to be tried by God. Right now, I wonder if my temptation to suicide is subsiding and may not continue. What am I to make of this trial? What lesson am I meant to learn? What is the meaning of this experience? Of course, this may simply be a lull in the Whisperer’s attack.

God addresses Job who is silent before God. Why? God hasn’t answered Job’s questions about his suffering. Yet God has satisfied Job because God has spoken to him and that was what job really wanted. God then asks Job who is more righteous God or himself based on the evidence.

In Job 40:8 God asks:
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

So what did Job gain from this trial? According to Fr. Patrick Reardon, “One observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from consideration of his own sins, but by his experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.”

The modern world does not greatly value humility. Certainly it is rare for parents to stress humility as a virtue for their children. You need self-confidence is a common dictum to children. I am no different. I have valued my independence and self-reliance as much as or more than most modern people do. My husband’s suicide and the subsequent deterioration in my mental state with suicidal ideation has certainly caused me to reconsider my reliance on self. In my current state self-reliance seems delusional. In my temptation to suicide God’s power and my weakness are exposed to both me and all the world. Fr. Reardon says of Job’s trial “Instead of pleading his (God’s) case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood sense of awe and of wonder. It is the Lord’s last word in the argument.” Certainly as a result of my temptation and trial I am more aware of my complete dependence on God. Every breath I take is because he wills it. This is something I have always known intellectually but it now has an immediacy and actuality that is more real than all my human concerns.

In wisdom literature the doubling of Job’s fortune and life and God’s direct interaction with Job are definitive. In my life I learn more slowly and I must wait to see if this trial is ending or if it is simply an interlude. In either case I am grateful for the much-needed rest.

Waiting at the Closed Door

Finally the door is opening. The Whisperer hasn’t been heard from in four days. Maybe because I’ve faced the closed-door in my life and made some difficult decisions.

On Friday I decided to move from Albuquerque to Santa Fé. This was unthinkable before because by moving I am leaving my husband behind, or at least our last years together before his suicide.

It’s strange but this town has never felt right. It isn’t a fit for me and I don’t know why. I suspect it has to do with all I suffered here.

I feel friendless although I do have what I would call practical friends. Those who share a meal with me at a restaurant, those I see at church or even those I exchange birthday cards with. But I haven’t met anyone in Albuquerque who shares their life with me. Perhaps the best way to characterize Albuquerque is that it is an antiseptic that may have been good for my wounds.

This morning, Sunday, I went to Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Santa Fé. I used to tell my therapist when I lost my faith that I missed God and I missed liturgy. When I received my faith back, I got God back. Today I got liturgy back. With it, I prayed with all my senses as well as with my mind and my soul. It was glorious and exhausting. I guess it was a return to the very thing that brought me to Christ.

The Orthodox church this Sunday commemorates the women who came to the tomb carrying myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body. The priest said the women were the first apostles. I like that. He pointed out that timing was everything. Had they come to the tomb sooner the stone would have still been in place. Instead they waited and when they came the stone was rolled back and they were the first to know that Christ was no longer in the tomb. The priest said that to wait for a closed-door to open or in the women’s case, a huge rock to be rolled back is not a vacant activity devoid of meaning. It is a time of active waiting and often yes, a time of suffering. But if we don’t wait for God’s time then we may miss the resurrection.

All of this makes me think of the trial of Job. Fr. Pat Reardon says that Job didn’t know that God was trying him. His friends said that because God was just then Job’s punishment was for sin he wouldn’t admit. Job knew he had not sinned. However, God knew, Satan knew and the Bible reader knows that Job’s suffering was a trial that gave God glory in light of Satan’s taunts. That Job suffered because God allowed it. The odd thing is that God never told Job why he suffered. But it was enough for Job to understand how great God is. He understood that his questions needed no answer in light of who God is.

Now that is an example I would like to follow.

The Kindness of Strangers

Often I am aware of how alone I am. I have no family and my friends are the practical kind, we sometimes do things together.

I made arrangements for my own funeral and body disposal since there is no one to do it when the time comes. I carry a device which allows me to call for help if an emergency arises no matter where I am. I depend on the kindness of strangers in an emergency.

My worst fears are living in a public nursing home, left in my mess to lie for hours while unfeeling staffers ignore me knowing I can’t cry out. That I have no one to help me. So many have passed the end of their lives this way. A final suffering of indignity. To be utterly unwanted and unnoticed. Their passing just a blip on the surface of time.

Yet I know a couple who have a son who cannot see or walk or talk but he can and does smile. He is in his thirties and knows he is loved. The mother’s life revolves around her son. I have never discussed it with the couple but I’ll bet they have made every arrangement to have him looked after when they no longer can. But I am sure they must fear for him.

One person in a loving couple can probably depend on the care of the surviving spouse. But that spouse may have indifferent children or none at all and face the same fears I do.

Suicide is a solution. Surely Job thought about it as he sat on the ash heap with only uncaring friends and a wife who wished him to die. Why didn’t he do it? God wasn’t there for him as he had been in the past. He wasn’t answering Job’s questions about why this was happening. His friends were telling him it was his fault because he sinned. They told him God would never had done this if Job hadn’t sinned. Yet Job knew himself to be innocent.

People speak of the patience of Job yet what choice did he have? The one thing he knew was that God had loved him in the past. I think he was sure that contrary to what he was experiencing God’s nature had not changed. That there was something in the situation he didn’t understand. And he sure did ask. But God remained silent.

We know what Job didn’t know. That God was allowing the Devil to tempt him to prove that Job was a truly good man who loved God. But God never did explain this to Job. He asked him “Where were you when I created the earth?’ Job 38:4. He then asked him the same question about God’s creation of the heavens and all the creatures of the earth. God pointed to his creation and his power. Finally Job understood just how small he was in comparison to God and he said:

“You said, ‘Listen now and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me’
My ears had heard of you,
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:4-6

Did he repent for a sin he just remembered. No. He repented for not recognizing God’s absolute power over his creation.

So it seems that my only recourse in my fear is to remember Job and endure just as he did because I know that God is good. Also I pray for kindness of strangers.

Friends, write to me and I will pray for you and ask your prayers for me.

Job Again

Suicidal thoughts are usually accompanied by depression, but not always. I often feel tired of life and would just like to fold my tent and go home.

Today I took a 6-year-old to the Bio-Park here in Albuquerque. We had a great time and I felt the experience was important. Yet when I got home I immediately thought of suicide.

My thoughts go along these lines. I am tired of living. I feel I have lived too long and my life no longer has meaning. Ok, Christ died for me in order that I might live in right relation with God. If I believe my life is important to God then it must be important to me. But it isn’t. I don’t mean to be ungrateful but I can’t find meaning in my life. In individual moments, yes. Being comforting to a neglected child; talking with a stranger and having a spark of contact, laughing with a young person, reading the Bible. Yes these things have meaning but it is only at the moment. As soon as the moment is over I feel dead.

Ok, I am depressed but the pills don’t work and the mental health community has no integrity and I would never again seek their help.

The religious community isn’t much help since they just don’t know what to do. I embarrass them. The best help I have is a friend who listens to me or reads my blogs and doesn’t say much. I know she prays for me.

I’m back to Job. A trial by God is the only thing that can give this experience meaning. It doesn’t make me want to live but it says maybe I can endure. Maybe God will let this end. Oh yes, and I try to praise God for my sufferings which seems like the craziest part of it all at the moment.

If you have any ideas which might help, please post them.