People don’t really see each other.
You often hear the adage that people hear one another without listening; I would argue the same to be true for seeing.
Since having surgery, I’ve stood in waiting areas of restaurants and doctors’ offices while others sat, wondering what it would take for someone to offer me their seat. Never in the eight weeks since surgery, despite a fairly obtuse walking boot, has anyone offered to trade spaces with me. Tonight at a retail store, a woman pushed past me in the checkout lane — literally pushing me forward and trapping me between the cashier’s counter and my cart — and when I sighed, she snapped at me for sighing. I pointed out the walking boot, and she dismissed me with an eye roll.
It’s bigger than a small, temporary foot injury though.
We just don’t see each other.
We overlook physical warning signs of depression, anxiety, illness, addiction. We don’t acknowledge changes to demeanor or behavior in the immediate, waiting instead until others have reached their breaking point before acknowledging the changes or offering help. We ignore what we don’t understand or can’t explain. Is someone using more sick time than usual? Have they stopped engaging in their typical social circles? Is their fuse shorter than it used to be? We avoid asking about these things, not for fear it will make the other person uncomfortable, but because it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Truth be told, I would probably decline a seat if offered most days. But the feeling of being seen, of being acknowledged is an important one to all of us — more important than personal comfort. Feeling invisible, feeling unseen, is one of the most desperate feelings in the world. We’ve all experienced it, and yet, we struggle in these moments to muster courage. In November, someone told me they were worried about me; the things she was worried about had been going on since August. Had she not seen them? Or had she not wanted to see them?
Who have you seen lately without really seeing them? And who do you already know you should reach out to?