The room was eerily quiet.
It did not take her long to realize this fact after she had entered. On a normal day, most people would look up with a smile, call out a “hello,” or ask how she was feeling. Today, not one raised their head to acknowledge her arrival. Well, of course; why should they? she mused to herself as she settled into her place and began arranging her work for the day. It’s not like she was anything special—just another person. Chalk it up as a lesson in ego, she thought with a slight grin.
But there was more to it than that. This was illustrated quite clearly when she turned to a friend and greeted him with a cheery, “Hello!”
…but received only silence in reply.
She repeated the greeting, thinking that her friend hadn’t heard her; but he remained unresponsive, head bent over his work, eyes focused on what he was doing. Was he ignoring her? Bemused, she turned to the person on her other side and made a comment about the weather.
Silence. Head down, eyes seemingly blind of peripheral sight.
Feeling more than a little confused, she arose and walked about the room, making random comments to friends and acquaintances. No one answered, no one appeared to notice her. Everyone continued their work or conversations, treating her as if she didn’t even exist.
Or—the numbing awareness drifted into her mind when she glanced up into a mirror and found nothing, nothing staring back—as if she were invisible…
So there I was, a Saturday afternoon on Twitter.
It was quiet. Very quiet.
Twitter’s been having some technical difficulties in recent months; and on this particular Saturday, the problem du jour was unusual. Some people’s comments were not appearing on their friends’ pages. In other words, for all intents and purposes, many of us were invisible.
Normally when I blow into Twitter and type a greeting to the world, I receive several replies. If I ask a question, answers flow in. But no matter what I tweeted that Saturday, no one answered me. Not one.
At first, I experienced the same chain of emotions as my character in the short story above—I felt frustrated, confused, just a tiny bit hurt. Of course, there’s no reason why anyone should drop everything to listen when I speak (trust me, I speak a lot, so nothing would ever get done), but there’s an inherent human need to be recognized, acknowledged. I got a clear look into myself that day—I realized just how much I feel that need to be acknowledged. Doesn’t take a lot—a glance, a smile, a wave, just enough to show that someone recognizes me as a fellow inhabitant of Planet Earth. The sensation of being unnoticed was discouraging.
I watched other conversations drift past my Twitter page, and felt left out—as if I was standing in an empty room while a party was going on next door.
And then something wonderful happened. Voices of encouragement began coming out of the ethers. Some friends could see me, and they let me know with greetings and news about the technical glitch. Now I felt as if people had left the happenin’ party and come to get me out of that empty room. I felt valued. I got to know a lot of new friends better that day.
Twitter fixed the problem, and life is back to normalcy now. But I still remember how it felt to be invisible. And the truth is, many people feel that way every day.
Alone in a Crowd
The signs of invisibility are often subtle, but they exist. Maybe a friend hasn’t attended group activities lately; or it’s been a while since we heard from a family member on the phone. Perhaps an acquaintance said something like, “Feeling sad today” on a social networking site like Twitter. Or, it could simply be the intuition that pesters us with the thought of someone in particular.
We don’t mean to ignore others, but life is busy—often, we simply don’t notice what’s going on with them. Or if we do, we might think, “Somebody else will have noticed that and responded to it.” What happens if “somebody else” is thinking the same thing?
At some point in our lives, each one of us has felt invisible. Remember that feeling. And keep your eyes open when you look at family, friends, even strangers. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile or a comment. Just enough to let a person know that you can see them. It only takes a moment, but may have a positive influence on the rest of their lives.
Oh, and on Twitter? If I say something like, “Farmer’s market carrots—OM NOM NOM,” and no one responds?
I’m totally okay with that.
Post-script: I did Twitter that—and someone did respond.🙂
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© 2008 Christine Taylor