(image via Pixabay)
What if I told you I’ve learned how to become invisible?
I’ve joked about wanting to disappear, but at the time I’d forgotten that I actually had become invisible, once. It’s not the sort of thing you can turn on and off at will. It’s what happens to you, if you’ve had certain types of misfortune. Once, for a brief time, it happened to me. And while I was invisible, I learned how to see invisible people.
It happened about two years ago, when I was downtown agency-hopping for help with the utilities again– this time I didn’t have my daughter with me. It was hot, again, and again I’d forgotten my water bottle. You’d be surprised at just how run-of-the-mill these situations are, for poor people. I stopped at the big old-fashioned Baroque church, the one all the rich people drive several miles to on Sunday, to hear the Latin Mass. I sat in the Adoration chapel, praying for a miracle. I prayed for help with the utility bill and for some way to scrape ourselves out of destitution. I prayed for a nice house in a suburb. I prayed to be rich. And then I left on the mile-long trudge back to the bus station.
On the way back, God granted a miracle. He didn’t grant me the money I wanted or a house in a suburb, but He granted me the miracle of knowing what it’s like to be invisible.
The sun was very strong, on the way back to the bus station. My usual heat-related illness began to flare; eventually, I couldn’t stand anymore. I sank to the ground against a brick wall, in the parking lot behind a smelly Chinese restaurant. It was all I could do to sit up.
There was a truck making a delivery to the restaurant kitchen– I watched them walk back and forth, a few feet from me, lifting pale yellow onions in bright orange net sacks onto the moving dolly, casting almost no shadow in the noon sun. I was in their field of vision, but they couldn’t see me. Cars drove by, very close; cars stopped at the red light and idled for a minute or more. I would have been in their line of sight if they’d looked out the passenger window, but nobody did. People walked by, intent on cell phones or their children; they passed close, but they didn’t see me.
They couldn’t see me, because they weren’t supposed to. Sitting there half-delirious in my thrift store clothes with my ragged purse and cheap Medicaid-avialable glasses, I was invisible. I had become one of the people we don’t see, because we’re trained not to look at them. We mustn’t stare at those people, because they’re probably on drugs. We mustn’t talk to those people, because they might be mentally ill and it’s somehow wrong to encourage a mentally ill person. We mustn’t offer to help them or they’ll take advantage. We mustn’t listen, because they lie. Don’t give them cash or they’ll buy alcohol. Don’t let them wander near your car or they’ll carjack you. Don’t help them or you’ll make them want to come back. Call the police if they catch your attention. The police will make them run away. Don’t encourage them. They’re pests.There are so many factors in this culture, teaching us not to look at the poor, not to look at beggars and drug addicts and homeless people. We as a culture obey. We try not to look, and eventually we just can’t see. What began as voluntary overlooking becomes blindness, blindness which is sin. Christ is led out to be crucified again in every suffering person, but we don’t look and eventually we don’t see. We don’t look down when He falls under His cross. We don’t look up when they hang Him between heaven earth; not even when they write “King of the Jews” and nail it over his head. We learn not to look at Christ, Christ becomes invisible to us, and we blame Him that we can’t see Him.
Someday we will ask “Lord, when did we see You?” and may God spare us on us on that terrible day.
I don’t know how long I sat there, back against a brick wall, trying to stay awake; it could have been twenty minutes or half an hour. At that point, someone with the ability to see invisible people approached me. He asked me if I’d like a drink. He took me with him to a little shady tent outfitted with electric fans, where he and his friends had set up a makeshift kitchen. They were serving lunch to invisible people. They gave me a tray of food, and a bottle of cold water. I ate and drank in front of the fan until my body felt normal again; then I walked the rest of the way to the bus.
The blessing of invisibility is that it helps you to see other invisible people. It’s not the only way to see them, but it helps. Once you’ve been the one that everyone ignores, it’s harder to ignore others. Once you’ve been the one who shouldn’t exist, it’s harder to think others shouldn’t exist. When you yourself are crucified, it’s harder not to notice Christ. I wouldn’t say I’m good at noticing Christ, but He’s begun to teach me how.
I noticed Christ just a few weeks ago.