Friday, April 1, 2011

When One is Invisible

To be or not to be . . . -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When One is Invisible _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Two weeks ago I was at Sweet Medical in Chinook for my annual Woman’s Exam. My doctor asked me a series of routine questions, and concluded by asking my age. I’ll be mumbly-mumble in two weeks,” I said. She looked up from her paperwork. “Happy Birthday, Sondra.” “I’m getting older grudgingly, not gracefully. I dislike aging. Brown spots, papery skin, this one long white hair that sprouts three inches overnight on my face. And why can’t we sit down or stand up without sound effects matching every move?” She laughed. “Would you like to go back to when you were younger?” “Not on your life—or my life.” “Not even if you knew all you know now?” “I’d probably do the same foolish things over again. With the knowledge I have today, life would be even more painful. But the thing that makes me angry about being an aging woman is that sometime in my fifties I became invisible. I don’t know how, but when I became an older woman, I vanished.” My doctor’s eyes sparked fire. “I know what you are talking about. I experience it all the time. It happens whenever I transact business. My husband and I were shopping for new floor coverings. We spent hours in the store looking at samples. The clerk talked to him the entire time. I made the choices, not him. I paid the bill, not him. But I might as well have not been there as far as that clerk was concerned.” “Yes, sometimes it seems like we don’t exist, like we are vague shadows. I remember one time when I went to buy a cargo van. The salesman insisted that I didn’t want a cargo van and he had the perfect mini-van for me and I needed to bring my husband to make the deal. I told him, look, I need a full-size cargo van for my business. And I don’t have a husband. He didn’t even hear me; he repeated it again, bring in your husband and test drive the mini-van. I stomped out of that place steaming and never went back. “I went down the road to the next dealership, smoke pouring from my ears. I told the young salesman that I’m single, I know what I want, and if you even hint that I need a man to seal the deal, I’m walking right back out that door. Whew, he brought me a mug of coffee, sat me in a chair in his office, closed the door and said, you just came from up the street, huh. An hour later I drove out of there behind the wheel of my new cargo van.” We had a good giggle. My doctor then said, “Frequently a female patient wants her husband in the room so that he can hear the information first hand. I make sure I address most of my comments directly to her with good eye contact. I talk to him too, but most of my discussion is with her.” Invisibility still dominated my mind when my daughter Dee Dee, a family counselor, phoned. “It’s not just women who are invisible,” she reminded me. “Add to your list the physically or mentally challenged. Old people don’t see young people. Young people disregard the elderly. People with dark skin or those with light skin, both can be invisible. Or people who speak a different language or wear unfamiliar clothing. Some people erase those who have green hair, tattoos, or body piercings. Almost all of us avoid looking at the homeless. It’s easy to become a non-person.” We humans are talented beyond belief. We make people disappear who are not carbon copies of us. We forget that every human being is unique. Each one of us has a compelling story. What would happen if we stopped, looked for the humanity in her eyes, and listened to her story? Or his story. Think about it. Sondra Ashton HDN: Looking out my back door March 31, 2011 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

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