On Becoming Invisible

With aging, comes invisibility. You don’t even have to do anything for a cloak to descend on you; it muffles your voice and refracts light on your body so that you pass through public spaces with no one noticing. In an old folk’s home, the invisible therefore abound, though some shake off the obscurity to claim the space around them, either through raised voices or by blocking a walkway-maybe even by making eye contact.

When I visit my father, my own inconspicuousness fades for there, I am young: I walk with purpose, I power my voice up so he can hear, I become the news report and the entertainment committee and I make a point of smiling at people, of saying hello, of letting them know that I see them. In turn, they become more discernible-oh-you’re the man who loves playing crib; you like to hear what birds I’ve been seeing; you used to be a teacher, too. Together we work at emerging from our insignificance.

connie and her dad

Connie Sobchak and her dad, Elmer Hellevang, embrace their visibility.

Of course, this idea that age brings a level of irrelevance to a person is refutable but I’ve felt myself disappearing for awhile now and when I talk to other women over fifty (I’ve yet to discuss this with a man) they tend to agree with me. I stand in lines and notice that the person behind me gets served first; I must raise my voice to a yell (or it seems like one) to catch attention in a group; when a team is chosen, I’m close to the last pick. But all is not lost…

There are other ways to look at the anonymity that might come with age. For one, the inter web is replete with methods and techniques for making yourself invisible. Most of these sites lead you through a step by step process, wherein you gradually dissolve body parts (with your mind!) until you no longer register to others (a promotional image of handsome, highly visible actor Bradley Cooper helps reinforce the validity for those who might doubt the technique in one interestingly worded program.) Mythology has plenty of characters who used invisibility as a sort of superpower-Hades used it to gain control of the universe-so I presume this is why others might choose to morph into something unseeable. You can get away with all sorts of things if no one knows you’re there.

Another way to consider your metamorphosis into an ethereal being is to recognize that at almost any stage of life after toddlerhood, you’ve likely been practicing the art of not being noticed-and not just to get away with stealing a cookie or spying on your neighbour. There are times when you want to blend into the scenery and just think your thoughts, or not think anything. People disappear easily this way, I can attest, after taking attendance and failing to recognize the presence of the reader who finished her novel while about her, the chaos of adolescence bubbled away.

And finally, my favourite take on the options at my disposal for viewing my encroaching anonymity. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle speaks of choosing to become a mountain or choosing to become a valley. A mountain stands out, full of muscularity, rising above it all, begging to be noticed. He would call this stance ego. A valley, on the other hand, obscures ego. In a valley, you can just be present and still-choose to go unnoticed, unfettered by an urge to be beautiful or smart or anything. He tells a funny story of going to a restaurant in California, surrounded by sculpted bodies. The server never saw him and he decided to see how long it would take to get noticed, without raising any fuss. As he concentrated on dissolving his ego, no one noticed him-or maybe they chose not to.

When it comes down to it, as with almost everything that’s been thrown my way, I see I have a choice over how visible I am to the world. I can choose to revel in anonymity by being present with no need to be affirmed by any other eyes or ears or I can manifest myself in ways that make others take notice-surprised perhaps by the sudden appearance of a ninja lady in the lineup. Next time I visit my father, I will make an effort to see the other residents but I will also recognize that they may be content at having mastered their own stillness.

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