Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, November 07, 2008

On Being Invisible.

One of my female readers, "Galina" sent me the following:

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously, not.

No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible. The invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a
clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and theeyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going; she's going; she is gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England... Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.

I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.

These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that
will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.' I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place.

It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile
over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life.

It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'you're going to love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right.

And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Great Job, MOM!

Share this with all the Invisible Moms you know... I just did.

Hope this encourages you when the going gets tough as it sometimes does.

We never know what our finished products will turn out to be because of our perseverance.

Another of my regular readers, with whom I shared this wrote in reply: "Invisible? I do not at all feel invisible. My husband and children owe me a debt they will never be able to repay and its my job to make sure they don't forget it."

In fact, this story is also told in a stage act, by Nicole Johnson (watch the video):

I have several reactions to the original notion, one of which is that this is not about invisible mothers, but about "home makers", who tend to be overwhelmingly women. In my new guise as a stay-at-home parent, I have had more than enough anecdotal evidence that this symptom afflicts both men and women who tend to stay "indoors". It goes partly to the notion of work, on which I have previously written. It's also an interesting set of observations that have a lot to do with time perspectives: looked at day-to-day, things can often look unchanged, but if you look at the time by hours, or blocks of hours, you will see that much has happened--good and bad. A friend told me that she is so sick and tired of the returning home worker's salutation "You are in the same spot that I left you when I went to the office." One suggestion that went through my head was to have a shotgun pointed to the door, with its trigger linked to the toe of one foot, and as the words were coming out, a wriggle of the toe would give the right response. But, not being of the macabre genre, I will leave that idea to one of my associates who's into film making.

I've mentioned before the parallel of this with trading. If rates at day start match those of day's end, that does not mean that the markets have not moved; they could in fact have had a turbulent time. There's a rationale about ending up where you started. The "tidiness" of life is also reflected in financial markets. I am looking at charts right now that show a flat day for a particular exchange rate, starting from 5pm New York time yesterday to noon time today. But, I can see that during that near 20 hour period the rate has swung by around 400 points--about evenly in each direction from the start point. That's a huge movement and if I had woken and taken the low point and ridden it to the highest point I would not have needed to trade for the whole of next week.

I guess my advice to "invisible" people is to make sure that you see yourself and what you are doing and value it. Try to make sure that those whom you think don't see you and what you do as valuable understand their shortsightedness or lack of sightedness. But I would also say "Don't sweat it." Know your own worth.

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