Back in high school I managed to surprise everyone, including myself, by joining a play cast for a huge event at the end of my junior year. I do not remember what the play was, I just remember it was a murder mystery, and I was the unlikely murderer. I thought that was kind of funny at the time. I was an old, sweet lady, all the while knowing I was the murderer.
After the play was over, life returned back to normal. I was sitting in chemistry class, panicking about the final, when the kid in front of me turned around and spoke to me. We had never spoken, but we still knew each other because we had been in the same class since middle school.
“Hey. You were pretty good in that play last night. I heard you were in it, and I was like, ‘Who’s that?’ Then I was like, ‘Does she even talk?’ Then I wondered if the play would be lame. But it wasn’t. I never would have guessed it was you.”
I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a compliment, insult, or conversation starter, but I grimaced and never responded. He turned around with the sound of the bell, and we never talked again. Either way, I realized at that moment why I had been cast for the part. My goal in high school was to be invisible, and I was relatively good at it, meaning I was the last person that anyone would expect to be the murderer. I think that was the first time I realized that being invisible was not at all rewarding.
Now fast forward two years later to freshman year of college. My friend and I were sitting high up in the bleachers waiting to hear a certain society name yelled out. We planned to run down at that point together. Society rush is absolutely ridiculous, by the way. I was being forced to join something that I had absolutely no interest in, and the way I had to join was running in front of easily 1,000 people out of the gym yelling some Greek letters. As miserable as it sounded, the alternative of them picking my society for me seemed worse, so there we sat, attentive and ready to be embarrassed.
Once we did run down the bleachers with a small group of girls who also ran down, we were all met by the society hierarchy of leadership. They literally screamed at us like drill sergeants and told us we had to run and scream weird words. I stayed in the back, trying to stay as invisible as possible.
By this point my friend and I were glued together and trying not to laugh. It was weird. We were led to a “secret” spot where the rest of the society waited. At that point we just played get to know you games and were told to jump up and down to cheers we did not know. We still laugh over the conversation we had amidst the awkward crowd games.
“This is so awkward! I can’t stop laughing!”
“Don’t worry. Just stick with me! I’m invisible, so they’ll never see you if you’re with me.”
*Cue lots of laughter.*
Fast-forward to one more story a few years later. I was working with kids with special needs, and I saw just about everything. Some of my kids were not getting enough food; I came across neglect situations; and sadly I saw some abuse situations. Everything was dealt with correctly, but I saw a different side of my personality that I hadn’t previously known existed. These kids seemed invisible to society, and it was my job to voice what I was seeing and be as visible and spotlighted as possible to make the changes that needed to be made.
One specific case I remember walking into a house and making eye contact with every adult in that room. I did not have to say anything. My presence was all that was needed to bring the situation into the light. It is hard to explain what I was feeling right then. I was not angry. I was not scared. I was simply visible, and I realized how impactful my presence/voice could be. I smiled, walked out, and made a phone call. Being visible holds the power to make change.
I still at times struggle with the paradox of wanting to be invisible. I want to be invisible from the wrong people in order to avoid drama and social non-necessities, but the flip side of that is that I do not want to be invisible from the right people…
- who could make a difference in my life or
- who I could make a difference in his/her life.
Being invisible is counterproductive for the type of life I want to live, and the older I become the more I try to stand out in a good way.
Within relationships specifically, I liken passivity (trying to be invisible) to a slow and tedious suicide attempt. It makes the other person sense you do not trust or care for him/her, and it makes you resent the other person for overlooking you. Relationships are two-sided, and it is the responsibility of each individual to communicate thoughts, emotions, and plans. Without that openness, the relationship will never grow and eventually die from starvation.
Recently I have been trying to find a healthy balance between standing out and disappearing. In a way I think I romanticize people who are invisible. There is definitely a time and a place where it is good to meld into the background and avoid being seen by the wrong people, but in order to get noticed by the right people and grow relationships, we cannot be invisible all the time.
Additionally, not being invisible does not mean standing out like a sore thumb or getting involved with unnecessary drama. Deciding to not be invisible means being honest, open, and voicing opinions. It means taking a stand when something needs to change. It means joining in when people need help. It means initiating difficult conversations with loved ones or taking time to express what is going on in one’s head. It means being kind to strangers and taking the time to smile at them and talk with them as chances arise.
Basically, being invisible is usually easier. Standing out in a good way takes a lot of work, but it is rewarding.