I haven’t had much luck believing six impossible things before breakfast. Not even aided by espresso. However, in pursuit of more achievable goals, I’ve been thinking about the nature of invisibility.
Many big accomplishments have been made possible by the i-power. Midnight explorations at Hogwarts. Escapes from nasty relatives. Thievery in goblin tunnels with far-reaching implications for Middle Earth.
In certain moments, who hasn’t wanted to be totally unseen?
But invisibility is a double edged magic. While most of its achievements occur in the pages of fantasy books, its downsides are usually not fictional.
For me, one of the ongoing mysteries in life is how many people manage to go seemingly unnoticed. Not because they’re Jason Bourne and they want to disappear. Because…well, it’s hard to say.
To say that people go unnoticed because they’re simply not very interesting would be an easy answer, and just as easily debunked. Social media can reveal a lot of things, but one of the most obvious lessons is that many famous people have the personal lives of warmed-over pasta. Stuck in a cycle of endless cliches.
That’s kind of beside the point, though.
In A Gentleman in Moscow, one of my favorite reads in 2019, the protagonist spends most of a year being overlooked and ignored. This happens even though he’s the most intriguing character in a sprawling hotel—and yes, the entire story. The explanation, when given, makes you smile. He has earned the disapproval of a beautiful woman and his punishment is social invisibility, until her chagrin fades.
It’s a minor stroke of magical realism but it doesn’t strike you as totally outlandish. Or even impossible. Because there are some people who seem to live in an alternate reality, removed just a couple inches from this one, and they glide around quietly, attracting little interest from much of anyone for months or even years.
It can be quite hard to explain. I mean, aside from magic.
I think the more pressing question for someone stuck in this kind of predicament (which is probably more common than any of us would like to think)…is how to get out of it?
Forget the cloak, the ring, the shadow-skills. How do you shrug all that off? How do you become someone people recognize as a real live human, with agency, a backstory, and the possibility of danger and intrigue? A person who occupies space, who has thoughts on any number of topics, who is worth knowing?
The answer isn’t to yell louder or say more outrageous things. If you look around, lots of people are trying that and it’s not making things better, just harder to have a conversation. Some would say you ought to find a few like-minded folks and make them your besties, but this falls apart too. Friendships built on affinities like coffee or artsiness or sports are only as strong as those affinities…and affinities have a way of fading. The coffee clique dissolves into separate brown rings. The basketball team graduates. Even book clubs—those most wonderful of factions—falter.
So what’s the answer to invisibility?
I’d like to say I have a magic antidote but instead I have only hints. Isn’t that how it always works with magic? Jesus says that whoever loses his life will save it. The first will be last, the least the greatest—and the tiniest of seeds will become mighty when it lies down to die in the dirt.
Here’s my prescription: Sacrificial love wins itself a place in the most startling of ways—by tenaciously fighting for others. Care for those around you bravely and without apology, even if you seem very hard to see. No one who loves this way can stay invisible forever.