I see invisible people

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As a kid I always wanted to be invisible. Invisibility was my reply when asked what superpower I wanted. Imagine the fun you could have – especially with girls! Later in life I had / have a dream to move to a deserted tropical island and just disappear. A kind of self-inflicted invisibility.

Change of direction: so I end up sitting with a stranger in a restaurant due to space issues. He is an older man, maybe in his mid-60’s and at the time I was in my 40’s. We start talking about stuff and eventually old age becomes a topic. He explains one or two of the many downsides of getting older. The first thing was the loss of hearing direction. Not hearing itself but the direction from where the voice is coming. You hear your name but you can’t make out the direction it’s coming from, so you end up looking around like a special-needs person, with your wife madly swinging her arms at you as if she’s parking an airplane with ping-pong bats.

The second challenge he told me was “becoming invisible”. “Invisible?” I asked. “Yes, you becoming invisible, that’s why I’m amazed you even wanted to sit with me let alone speak to me. You see the older you get the more of a non-person you become”. He now had sadness on his face and the situation became a little uncomfortable. He told me how people actually, physically bump into him because he’s old and people just stop seeing him. His opinions, ideas and council were no longer requested, needed, or taken seriously. Now, of course I am fascinated! I have always been intrigued about how we treat older people so my brain focuses on the concept of being invisible. A hard thing to do as a stage performer who is the center of attention almost every other day.

I started listening and noticing other people speak of the same condition. Being invisible. And to my surprise many aren’t even old people. It is difficult to ask you whether you see invisible people, because if they are invisible how do you see them? So, let’s see if I can get you to see the unseen that are around you every day.

Do you also have an invisible person who puts socks and clean underwear in your drawer? Or an invisible person who fills the fridge with food every day? They make sure that clothing magically appears clean and pressed in your cupboards and meals appear on the table every night without any effort from you. We have an invisible lunch maker who makes lunches for our kids. I see her doing this every day but for some reason the teenage children don’t. To them the lunch boxes just magically appear and on their way home with their invisible chauffeur they pass comments of disapproval at some of the menu items for the day. These blissfully unaware messages are conveyed “through” mostly invisible Mom and intended for the invisible lunch maker.

What about the people at work? The ones who are there but you never really actually see them. They wave at you (or not) at the security boom when you drive in to work. They are (you think) at a reception area that you bypass as you walk past more invisible interns or people pushing carts or trolleys on the way to your office. Maybe they are in another building or on another floor with a headset or maybe they are on the executive level. They could probably be those invisible people who make your salary actually appear – even if briefly – into your bank account every month.

I know there are invisible, not respected and unappreciated, hard-working people who actually keep the lights on in this country. They do this with literally invisible leadership in a broken, poorly run parastatal, filled with nepotism, corruption, cronyism, incompetence and cadre deployment. But the lights stay on – most of the time!

So why now? Why is this a thing for me now?

Because I notice, as the old man predicted, everyday as my years add up that I am becoming more and more invisible. I recently became invisible to 50% of the world’s population. Women don’t see me anymore – ever since I added magic, invisible making, grey dust to my hair. My hair doesn’t disappear – I do. I don’t even get the old – disapproving look as they decide I’m ugly, or not their type, as they look away condescendingly anymore. Now they actually don’t even see me. I do not exist. They literally look through me as if I was glass. It is the most unbelievable feeling. I may as well be traffic regulations to a taxi.

Then I turned 50. Major invisible trick! Dynamo has nothing on me. If you wish to disappear like free food at a conference, just become a 50-year-old married man with grey hair. With this trifecta you are so invisible that black holes move away from you.

Then I started disappearing at home. I decided to get a haircut at a proper barber the other day (I usually do a number 3 on myself). The hair artist spent about an hour cutting, trimming, clipping, shaving, combing and even asked, “May I use some product on your hair, Sir?”. He then asked whether I liked his masterpiece to which I replied that if I walked into my home and my wife and children mistook me for George Clooney the haircut would be a massive hit and I would definitely return. It’s been 4 days now since my haircut and no one has noticed. The look on my family’s faces when I read this newsletter to them and they noticed the haircut for the first time – priceless! Good news for my banking account, not so good for the young hair Picasso.

Hardly ever does anyone inquire about my day and how I feel. People look past me in shopping centers and even if dealing with a younger person in stores, they speak in your general direction but not to you. My research confirms that it is worse for women. Women report that they become invisible as soon as they hit 40.   The old man in the restaurant assured me that it only gets worse. People and family only invite you out of duty.  “Well he’s our dad we have to invite him; it’s the right thing to do!” Then they carry on with their party as if you didn’t exist; with the occasional “are you okay, can I get you anything?”  

But I’ve been thinking, as I often do, that maybe it’s not all that bad, this being invisible thing:

  • You can put on weight and eat what you want because no one looks at you.
  • You can get a tattoo of your mother-in-law’s face on your butt because you’re invisible.
  • Grooming is easier and cheaper because people don’t see you as a mark. If they feel they cannot get anything from you, they just leave you alone.
  • You learn to watch and observe a lot more.
  • You speak less or only when you are spoken to, and you tend to measure your responses.
  • You can take a day off and hardly anyone will notice as long as what they usually get from you is still in its place.
  • You don’t have to be the life of the party, and make small talk or conversation. If you don’t even pitch, hardly anyone will notice.

Mostly you get to see other invisible people. You get to notice and feel how they feel, you get to stop and without even a word, see them. And for just a second or two they become. They actually BE and come into sight. Right in front of your eyes! You have the ability to make them appear. TaDa! I see you!  It’s a beautiful thing to watch. And it’s a powerful thing to be the See’er!  

So now I notice, now I see. I make it all appear I make it real. I notice.

  • I see my little girls joy at receiving her full colours or her disappointment when her heart is broken.
  • I notice, and I see the lunch maker, the file creator and the best business partner in the world.
  • I see and I notice the home-cooked meals and the shopping and the time and effort and the love that went into preparing it, and the dishes that disappear after it.
  • I see the new outfits and the gym visits.
  • I notice my little boy’s jokes and the laughter, the punch in the arm as a way to say, I love you dad.
  • I see my little girl’s early-morning dedication, rowing on the lake, and working out in the gym.
  • I see their report cards as a wonderful work ethic that we have instilled in them.

The more I notice, the more I see, the more I build in spite of me. Hey – that rhymes. Maybe it’s not so bad this invisible thing because at the point I disappear others appear. Maybe it’s perfect the way it is. But the older you get the more you realise that it’s not about you, it really never was. It’s about helping other people to shine. It’s about seeing them shine. Helping them and guiding them to shine. Helping others see and be seen, so that they may bask in their moment, visible to all – until it is their time to also disappear.  

So this note is to you Mr or Ms. Invisible where ever you are! Mrs. Invisible Mom, Mr Invisible Dad, invisible friend, invisible chef or accounting clerk. To you the invisible husband or invisible wife, you may not be noticed or you may not feel you are noticed but you are. I see you, if even only through this note, I see you. If you’re happy with being invisible, well that’s just cool, because you get it! We only see what we reflect. Reflect your light, focus your light, bring the light, give light and you’ll make things lighter. Start seeing other people, be the great See’er, the Big Notice’r. The Visible-ater. All people really want is to be seen – to be noticed.  

Love, light and laughter

Your invisible friend


PS a small note on children – especially teenagers. They may not see or acknowledge the fetching and they carrying: or the effort to provide the dinners and the lunches; the late nights and all of the worrying. She could never consciously see the 2 o’clock in the morning drives around the block to get her to sleep: or where the R100, that magically appears out of your wallet when he wants to go out comes from, or what it took to get there. These things they may not see but I am sure they felt it – the feel it. After all – what we do out of love is felt more than it is seen. Love is after all an action. We show what we feel and we do what we do to show our love. We do so not out of a need to be seen but as a way to show our unselfish, unconditional love.

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