If, as a child, I had discovered what I now know about myself, I would have had a glorious career in espionage. Sadly, the CIA will have to mourn its loss, for it wasn’t until I was well beyond my twenties that I realized the significance of all those strange symptoms of my disjointed life: the fact that I’m invisible.
The first clue I had to this malady was a vignette from my junior high school years. Madly in love with music, but hating the tedium of all other classes, I often would cut class in favor of long practice sessions in the music suite. One day, during an after-school lab make-up session (for which absence I truly had a viable excuse!), my biology teacher struck up a conversation which meandered into the realm of students’ differing personalities. Comparing me with a fellow musician, she mentioned that if this girl were to ditch class, this teacher would have immediately noticed the absence owing to the girl’s personality. As for me—well, she wouldn’t have noticed. There was nothing outstanding to call attention to even my existence.
Time and again, people would mention—sometimes be startled into noticing—the shock of realizing that “someone” was there. That someone would be me. Even standing right next to the focus of attention (a six feet, nine inches tall man, specifically), I would be as surely not seen as if I were just so much more air. If, for some reason, people were astute enough to recognize that that thin air did indeed comprise a person, the person they saw would be labeled with every imaginable contortion of the pronunciation of my name (Kathy, Jeanie, Angie). When the labeling reached beyond phonetic semantics to creations exceeding excuse (Barbara, Genevieve), it became obvious that people see not what is there, but what they wish to see. For some reason, I never became what people wished to see, so for them, I became invisible.
Life has predictably followed a full course of invisibility. Tucked away in suburbs franchised by mass-production economy, I follow the scientific reality of cause-and-effect demands: schedules, bills, roles, obligations. And yet, I struggle to break out of the box of invisibility. The struggle is not because I can’t get out of the box; it is because no one can see me stepping out of the box. I struggle because I want to be seen.
The Gordian-knot approach to this dilemma is not to untie other people’s psyche, but to cut myself free from the thought that being seen is key. Importance in life does not need to be predicated upon only those things deemed valuable by their visibility. There is a world of invisibility, inexplicable but approachable, imbued with values measured only by eternity and the souls that eternity can receive. Invisibility as a cloak can become a blessing.
The ruling paradigm in demanding, modern life—the philosophy of Science—requires, among other things, that to be recognized as measurable and thus real, an entity must be part of an independent, external world; that that world must have a knowable, uniform and orderly nature; that it must be observed by those in possession of reliable cognitive and sensory faculties; that those observing must be in possession of language that can adequately serve to describe that world; and that those observing must also be in possession of numbers and mathematical truths to model those observations. If anything is not in the external world; if anything is not observable; if anything is not apparent to those deemed to possess those reliable cognitive and sensory faculties; if anything is outside the realm of descriptive or quantifying language; to science—and thus, modern life—it is as if it didn’t exist.
How, then, can one measure love? Or any of the virtues? Do they, then, not exist? How, if they do not exist, are we to pass them down, generation to generation, so that our children may not only thrive, but stand on our shoulders and exceed our reach? Is life only about what is visible? Measurable? Is the visible life alone worth living?
What is achieved in the invisible world, immeasurable yet invaluable, often endures. It leaves behind the logic of the scientific and real, but enters the realm of the spiritual. Works of that spiritual realm, some of them creations of beauty, were often invisible—and designed to remain invisible—to secular stations.
Over one thousand years ago, an artisan fashioned an object incredibly ahead of its time for its attention to detail. The Ardagh Chalice, described by historian Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization as “the most extraordinary metalwork of the early Middle Ages,” had one tantalizing salute to the invisible. Used in communion, the chalice would briefly be turned upward as the communicant drank the wine, and “there would flash skyward the Chalice’s most thrilling aspect: the intricate underside of its base, meant to be seen by God alone.”
Why take all that time, that effort, to work a work that would never be accredited to any measurable benefit? It is because there is a world that counts those things invisible as visible.
“With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”