As a grubby little tomboy climbing trees, I longed to be seen.
“Watch me, Dad!”
He didn’t see me because he wasn’t around. My mom was always there but the “Bad Dad” impact seems to override a lot of the “Good Mom” effect.
Once when he was there, I had run crying to him because my kitten was trapped between two tool benches in the basement. As I remember it, (sorry, Dad, if my recollection is wrong) he rushed with me back downstairs to rescue the trapped cat. When he saw how she had gotten her head caught and was not hurt, he laughed and lifted the poor little thing up and out, showing me how easily I could have done it. I had made a stupid mistake and he teased me about it.
I think I dimmed the light in my heart a little that day, afraid to risk the feeling of exposure and vulnerability. After that, I grew smaller, wanting to be invisible for awhile.
Then came middle school and high school and I cried ‘watch me!’ to all the boys willing to look my way. Exhilarated to be noticed, I clambered up the pedestal which displayed the gold plate inscribed: “talented, pretty and smart !” I got good at balancing up there. Whenever I came crashing down, I climbed back up and fell again many more times.
What Women Want
Have you seen the movie called What Women Want?
I like it because it’s about how people, how women, hide their vulnerability, their true selves. It’s a story that makes us imagine what would happen if we could read each other’s thoughts.
Mel Gibson plays a typical male chauvinist (do we use that description anymore?) who runs an advertising firm. After a strange event involving a hair dryer, nail polish, and lightning, he wakes up able to literally hear women’s thoughts.
One of the minor characters in the film is a mousy office worker who gets stepped on and ignored all day long. She is nondescript and sad but no-one notices. Mel Gibson’s boss character doesn’t even know she exists in his workspace until he hears her thoughts in passing. Her perspective of life in the office surprises him as he recognizes her mute cries for help. She wants to be seen.
Her scenes, including the one where the boss discovers she’s been missing and goes looking for her at home, remind us to be attentive to those overlooked people in our lives. People so unassuming and ordinary that we see right through them, like an old shower curtain just doing its job. This actor made me think of all the quiet characters in my periphery whose thoughts might shock me if I could overhear the stories swirling there. Their vulnerability is hidden by invisibility.
What We All Want
On the other hand, we all know those other characters who stand out and rarely get missed. The confident, beautiful women who seem to have what every woman wants. The men with unquestioned charm and confidence. Picture the models in fashion magazines displayed on every page. Imagine the actors and artists and entrepreneurs interviewed before the camera. The powerful ones unafraid to voice their thoughts, able to stand tall in front of us all.
We put these types on pedestals and tell them how much we love them. We do it because we hope their fairy tale lives are true and we want to believe in them.
Of course, it’s not all castles and happy endings. When their worlds come crashing down, the surprise lasts only a moment because we know these posed and powerful are just like us…fragile, unsteady. Their vulnerability is hidden by the brave part they’ve been playing.
What I want
I want you to think I’m smart, talented, and pretty. But I also want you to see through my masks and tell me you really see me and love me.
What’s funny is how we do a disservice to one another by refusing to see through the masks both types wear: the hidden characters and the pedestal people. Vulnerability is scary.
I am always worried about what they will think of me. How can I imagine that they are not more focused on what I will think of them? Crazy.
Every once in a while, I glimpse a freedom in which I am completely vulnerable and unselfconscious. Sometimes when I walk my dogs in the neighborhood or meet friends at a restaurant, I forget to care how my hair looks or what my clothes say. Other times, I don’t worry about saying something dumb or being less than special. In those moments, I am neither magnificent nor unremarkable. I am alive and loved in the world.
I still want to be seen.
As a not-so-young-anymore person, I do not want to get lost in the crowd. Yet I also sense there’s a peculiar freedom that comes with being ordinary. Have you felt it?
Aging teaches lots of lessons about being ordinary. As I have gotten older, I realize I can hop down off of all my pedestals. I can stop posing to be noticed.
On the other hand, I can step out of the crowd wearing some crazy outfit and wave wildly to my family and friends. I am becoming free to be exactly me!
See Through Me
I wrote this song, See Through Me, because I can relate to being in both positions of vulnerability: the invisible girl and the pedestal girl.
When others see through me as just another face in the crowd, I trust those who love me to notice everything about me.
When I’m feeling proud and tall, I trust those who love me to see through all of my posturing and love me for who I truly am.
When I do fall, I know they’ll gently lift me up again.
When I say, “watch me,” they do!
See Through Me
Look at me, I’m oh so ordinary
Just a face to lose in the crowd
Can you see me clearly unremarkable
Like the shadow of a passing cloud
I’m paper thin, light as a feather
See through me
On this pedestal I look so steady
See my skin, the finest porcelain
Should you dare to shine a light my way
See the shadow of the shape I’m in
So paper thin, fragile as glass
See through me