Do you ever feel invisible? Unnoticed? Camouflaged maybe?
I have worn articles of clothing five times and then somebody in my home finally asked, “Is that a new sweater?” I’ve colored my hair and nobody noticed for days, until a friend at Bible Study exclaimed, “You colored your hair! It’s a great color for you!” I have never cared for ketchup or mustard; I’m not a condiment girl. Still, after nearly sixteen years of marriage, my husband regularly offers to get me ketchup when we’re having hot dogs or eating in a fast food restaurant.
Oh, there are plenty of times my husband or children tell me I look nice and notice what I’m wearing or that I’ve painted my nails. Just this morning, my four-year-old son looked at me after I’d finally showered and fixed my hair and put on real clothes (not sweats) and said, “You are good-looking, Momma!” (He’s my favorite today.) But there are days when I feel invisible or barely noticed.
In college we watched this French movie called The Return of Martin Guerre, which was based on a true story. In it, Martin Guerre went off to war, leaving his wife and child. After several years, a man showed up in the village claiming to be Martin Guerre and slid right into Martin’s life. The wife accepted this impostor as her husband, but soon villagers began questioning the true identity of this man claiming to be Martin Guerre. I remember discussing with my classmates whether the wife was truly tricked or whether she just wanted a husband so badly, it didn’t matter whether this man was really her husband or someone pretending. Perhaps she just wanted a man, any man, to fill that role, and the specifics of his identity didn’t matter all that much.
Do you ever feel like that? As if it doesn’t matter who you really are, that the people around you would be satisfied with any warm body doing the things you do? That the people around you don’t ever really look at you or listen to you or pay attention to you anyway? I think we each feel that way from time to time.
One of my favorite novels is Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years. In it, Delia Grinstead feels expendable. So during a summer vacation, she wanders off down the beach, eventually hitchhiking a ride to a small town where she lives in a boarding house and takes a job as a secretary, trying on a new identity of sorts.
After several days, Delia’s family finally posts an announcement in the newspaper that she is missing. Delia had been scouring the paper for days looking for such an announcement. Each day, she had been both relieved and disappointed to find no notice of her disappearance. “Did no one realize she was gone?” she wondered. Finally, when the announcement does appear, Delia is terribly hurt by her family’s description of her. This passage of the book has always struck a chord with me. I think it resonates with that bit in each of us that longs to be noticed, seen, heard, known.
It hurt to read her physical description: fair or light brown hair . . . eyes are blue or gray or perhaps green . . . For heaven’s sake, hadn’t anyone in her family ever looked at her? And how could Sam have made her clothing sound so silly? King of baby-doll, indeed! . . .
The next day, she read the newspaper.
Today there was no further mention of her disappearance. She wondered if the authorities had forgotten her that quickly.
Her family couldn’t even find a recent picture of her to print in the newspaper. They used one from years earlier when she’d been a bridesmaid in her sister’s wedding, a photo in which she was -of course- wearing a horribly unflattering dress.
As I’ve been pondering identity lately, I’ve thought about how important being known is. I think that is one of the most basic needs we all have — to be really known and really loved, to be wanted by someone who really knows all about us.
Anne Tyler’s Delia Grinstead did not feel known; she felt overlooked, unappreciated, expendable. So she walked away from her life to start over with nothing, with nobody to not notice her.
Like Delia, Martin Guerre was expendable. Any man similar-looking enough could walk into his life and take his place. If his wife could accept another man in his place, did she ever really know Martin Guerre?
Do the people in my life really know me? Or do they know snippets of me? Could anybody write an accurate description of me if I came up missing? Of course, my family could describe what I look like. I’m pretty sure they all know my hair color and eye color, but what about beyond the physical description? Does anybody know all of me? Am I known? Are you?
And if we’re not, is it because we only show parts of ourselves to people? The safe parts. The parts we think people will like. Maybe parts of us are invisible because we hide those parts. Maybe we’re camouflaged because we camouflage ourselves.
And do we know the people in our lives? Do I work to really know my children, my husband? to meet their need of being wholly known and wholly loved?
Do I foster relationships so my own need to be wholly known and wholly loved is met?
What about you? Do you ever feel like Delia Grinstead? Do you relate to Martin Guerre? Do you ever feel invisible or expendable?
** By the way, the Sunday School response is that we have a Heavenly Father who knows us, completely knows us, and wholly loves us as we are. He knew us as enemies and loved us in spite of that. He died so that He could spend all of eternity in relationship with us. Of course, I know this. I know that I am wholly known and wholly loved by the only One who really matters. I know this, and I do find great comfort in this. And I think this is our greatest spiritual need, intertwined with salvation — to be wholly known and wholly loved or perhaps to understand and believe in faith that we are wholly known and wholly loved.
But I also think we have a need to be known and loved and accepted by other people, or at the very least, by another person. I think this is one of our greatest emotional needs. It’s ironic that one of our most significant needs is to be wholly known and wholly loved, yet we spend so much time putting our best foot forward, revealing only the aspects of ourselves we believe are most attractive and acceptable.
What do you think? It’s your turn.