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.

Aging and Suicide

Today a release in the Albuquerque Journal Staff Wire headlined “Brother, Sister Die in Likely Murder-Suicide.” Police identified the victims as Kenneth and Shirley Robson, both of whom were in their 60’s. The brother was a caretaker for his sister and they lived in a mobile home. Police detectives speculate that either health or financial problems prompted the murder-suicide.

Perhaps their problems might have been spiritual. I wonder if loneliness and fear were the motivating factors. Our society is one that promises a “safety net”. But what is the safety net for despair? Did the brother in seeking help for his sister get handed a lot of forms with stern admonitions about qualifying for help. Was he met with hard faces at the agencies where he went for help? Did he belong to a church? Did the church look beneath the surface to see the despair? Or were they just overlooked by all these organizations of help as a an unnecessary impediment to their mission.

People over 80 have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Why? They are too often left alone to cope on insufficient incomes and illness without people who befriend them.

While there are many people genuinely trying to help people like the Robsons, I don’t think that government agencies or even churches are the best way for them to get help. Neighbor’s who look out for warning signs, who visit even though they have busy lives, who try to understand the neglected and desperate are the foundation of help. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to the desperate.

How often when I have tried to help someone who seemed needy have I been rebuffed or perhaps my help was abused; the need was feigned. As a consequence I have found myself looking away from problems and letting myself grow cynical. When I do this I miss the chance to help someone genuinely in need that God is calling me to help. I am sure that what I have done is a terrible thing in th<a
Let's look around us and notice those in need. Those who aren't visited, who remain alone day after day and remember what our Lord said about helping our neighbor and the widow and the orphan. Let's not wait for the agency to step in but get them the help they need.

Please let me know what you think about the Robson's. It may be that nothing could have been done. Yet again something might have been done and wasn't. God forgive us if that is true.

All I Did Was Ask for a Prescription

Yesterday I once again entered the Kafkaesque medical world. After going to a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office and to the grocery store I returned home to find two cop cars in front of my house.

I parked and went up to the police and yes they had an order to take me to the hospital for evaluation of being at risk of suicide. They allowed me to put some things in the frig and I called a neighbor to ask her to board my dogs.

The police took me to the hospital in the back seat of the cop car. My neighbors were gawking, and I, of course, was totally humiliated. Once at the hospital they told me to strip naked and put on a hospital gown with no shoes, no phone and no glasses. Next they put me in a room on the psych ward with no door and I then waited 20 hours before being evaluated.

It all started at my Monday morning appointment to see a nurse practitioner about another problem. I had decided to bring up the problem of depression after my episode on Sunday. Previously I have been reluctant to take yet another antidepressant since they have so many side effects. I explained the problem of depression to the nurse and she asked if I had thoughts of suicide.

I carefully answered that yes, I had thoughts of suicide, but I had no intention of taking my life. On the contrary I told her of my dedication to not doing so. I even told her about my blog. She was not impressed.

While I was speaking the nurse was typing every word I said verbatim into her online computer. She continued asking questions that were almost accusatory.

I was becoming extremely uneasy with her typing. It wasn’t a normal health care visit, it was more like she was taking my deposition. She didn’t meet my eye, she just asked questions and typed. Finally I asked her why; she said that’s the way she did it. I asked her to stop and she said no.

I told her that I thought my visit with her was a mistake and that I was leaving because I did not want every word I said available to the entire health system and any other person who gained access to it. My very own Nurse Ratchat asked if I was coming back and I said no, not to her.

The good part of my incarceration was that I prayed for most of the 20 hours I was there and regained my composure. Finally the counselor interviewed me and agreed that I wasn’t suicidal and had not needed an evaluation. After about an hour and a half they released me and I gladly walked the three miles home in the hot Albuquerque sun.

The first thing I did when I got home was call my health care provider and tell them to give me a new primary care physician. They asked me who I wanted and told them I didn’t care just so I got rid of the one I had.

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.