I See You

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Invisible – (def.) Unable to be seen.

As a child, I played a superhero game. If you could have any superpower what would it be? The choices included: invisibility, flying, superhuman strength, x-ray vision and many others. We chose our special power and argued why our power was the best. We told each other what we would do if we could fly, disappear or see through walls.

Now as an adult, I am struck by invisibility. The more I consider being invisible, it becomes clear that it is not a super power at all. As I observe the world, my people, my friends and myself, so much loneliness, violence and unhappiness stem from the noxious feeling of being unseen.

 *****

The baby screams, giant tears roll down his plum colored cheeks. His shrieks pierce the air. He won’t nurse. He won’t sleep. He won’t stop. His mother bounces up and down, jogging in place and holding him in her arms. Her tears join his.

“I see you,” she whispers. “You exist. I see you. I hear you. I love you.” Her endless bouncing creates a rhythm behind her words.

 *****

An elderly man sits hunched over on a park bench. He closes his eyes, tilting his face to the sun. He lives alone. Every day he circles the park and sits on this bench. This year more friends are dead than alive. His wife is dead. The pendulum of life shifting, as he navigates his closing chapters. A young man sits down beside him and asks him about his day. He waits for an answer. He listens to the old man’s story.

I see you.

*****

A cool autumn morning, a mother heaves a 40lb double stroller into the back of her dirty minivan while the baby sobs in his car seat. She attempts to slam the trunk and the stroller topples down on her leg. She swears. The baby cries. Tears fill her eyes. An older woman slowly walks a straggly mutt down the opposite sidewalk. The creak of her knees is almost audible. “A mother’s strength,” she marvels as she watches the bewildered young mother.

Her words are a gift.

I see you.

 *****

A doctor knocks on the door of her patient’s room. A woman sits on the reclined patient chair. Her legs stick to the tissue, separating her from the plastic seat. Her tired eyes scan the doctor’s face, anxious to hear the test results. The doctor sits down beside her. She asks her how she feels? The doctor listens and talks to the patient the way she would want a physician to talk to her or her family member. The results aren’t good. The patient’s eyes fill with tears. Her doctor grabs her hand. “I am so sorry,” she says.

She hugs her patient.

I see you.

*****

A woman walks through a busy mall. Tears distort her vision. Grief guts her. She feels invisible. A part of her is gone and will never return. She wonders about his last thoughts, words and feelings. A stranger approaches her and looks at the woman’s swollen red face. The stranger doesn’t cringe at the sight of snot streaming from her nose. “Can I help you?” The stranger asks, wrapping her arms around the adult who feels more like a child.

“He died,” the woman gasps.

“I am so sorry.” The stranger whispers and holds her crumpled body.

I see you.

 *****

Every day he works. Every day he leaves the house while his wife and children sleep, buried in stuffed animals and down comforters. He drives to the office. This man could be anyone. He types notes, sees patients, writes briefs, calls clients, bags groceries, builds houses, fixes pipes, answers phones and sells stocks. For years he gives 100% of himself to his job with no recognition.

The daily grind, is this what life is about? Will these be my days for the next 30 years? He thinks. He is drained. He feels like an invisible cog in the corporate machine.

Then his supervisor visits his office. “Wow, I’m impressed. The corporate office recognizes how hard you work. It’s impressive. What can we do for you?”

I see you.

*****

She sits on her couch. The children play on the floor. The house is a mess, half finished puzzles, broken crayons, papers cut into millions of odd shaped slices cover the hard wood floor. The baby nurses, sucking every last bit of energy out through her chest. Disappointment settles on her shoulders. She wanted the house to be clean before her husband got home. Dinner is not ready. Bills cover the dark granite counters. This is my job, she thinks, and today I failed.

Her husband walks in the door. He puts his coat and bag down on the counter stool.  He walks to his wife on the couch and kisses her head. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you for working so hard today.” His words, a balm, lift the weight from her shoulders. “Let’s order pizza,” he says, cradling the phone in his hands.

I see you.

*****

A little girl sits on the pavement during recess. She picks up a piece of sidewalk chalk and draws a picture, right next to the four square court. Some girls in her class giggle, bolting by her in a streak of color. She loves to play but she doesn’t know how to join the group. She sits on the pavement, feeling invisible.

Then, a girl with short blonde hair approaches her. She wears a Star Wars t-shirt and pink pants. “Race me,” she shouts. The quiet girl on the pavement hesitates, but then jumps up and runs.

The challenge to race – a life raft for a lonely girl in a sea of children.

I see you.

*****

Recognition, empathy and connection, small acts that have the power to heal marriages, friendships, employee dissatisfaction and improve foreign policy. Everyone feels better when they are SEEN.  A little act that goes so far.

Oh, if we practiced SEEING each other – what a wonderful world it would be.

I’m Going to Love You, Forever and Ever, Forever and Ever Amen

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“Digging up bones, I’m digging up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.  I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone.  Tonight I’m sitting alone digging up bones.”

The familiar and warm crooning of Randy Travis filled my ears.  My sister and I buckled into the backseat of my father’s dark blue Peugeot station wagon speeding through the streets of New York City.  My father quickly switched lanes and I slid into my sister.  Our voices young and pure, “Digging up bones,” singing the chorus in unison, songs etched in our little minds.

My father met my gaze in the back seat.  Michael had the habit of telling a story while driving, taking his eyes off the road and actually looking at you.  It was terrifying and surprising that he never got in accidents.  None of his kids dared tell him to focus on the road or remind him that he was driving and there were other cars on the road, instead we all suffered a terrified excitement as we drove with him.  “A city driver,” he always said, one aspect of his larger than life persona.

It was our Wednesday to have dinner with him.  He drove us across town, crossing from the Upper West Side to his studio bachelor pad on the Upper East Side. It had become our Wednesday ritual, Matthew would be waiting at Michael’s apartment and we would walk the two blocks to Mumbles, a restaurant with a green awning nearby.  Each Wednesday we passed the same homeless man on the corner who would ask us for change, “No Man, I don’t have anything,” my father would say, his words and vernacular shifting to a street talk I only heard him use with friends or other men on the street.  Then sometimes, to my surprise, he would drop a Five Dollar bill into the man’s hat and tell him to grab a burger.  We’d fantasize that the homeless man on the street actually had a penthouse on Park Avenue, “you never know,” my father would say.

As we’d get to the restaurant our booth would be waiting for us.  My dad’s diet coke sitting in its position, my sister’s ginger ale, my sprite, and my brother’s coke, each drink and meal laid out in its appropriate spot.  They knew where we sat and what we ate and drank each Wednesday.  This was our family’s new normal, our version of the traditional family dinner.  His best friend John would often meet us at the restaurant.  He had an expletive tattoo on the inside of his lip that my sister, brother, and I found hilarious.  He appeared normal, strikingly normal for a friend of my father’s, but when he pulled his lip down and we saw the F—- Y—, I learned that looks could be deceiving.  He would laugh and tease us, Uncle Mo, we called him.

My dad had colorful friends.  His friends didn’t look like my friends from schools parents.  Michael’s friends were people that as I got older I may have been scared of if they had approached me in a dark alley, but as a child I recognized their gentle souls and had no fear.  One had tattoos that covered every inch of his body up to his face.  My sister and I analyzed each image until we found our favorites.  We sat outside our loft on the hot and dirty pavement, trying to determine which one was the best.  He’d smile and laugh listening to our serious commentary.  These friends of my fathers had stories that memorized us.  Later I learned that these were friends found in a new found sobriety, a family of support in their recovery, vibrant lives stitched across all socio-economic and racial backgrounds.  Colorful characters with lives that were even more dramatic than I knew.

We walked back to his apartment passing the same man, begging for change, who this time wished us a goodnight.  My brother would accompany my Dad to an AA meeting, listening to men and women tell their stories of mistakes made and recoveries found in the basement of the church a couple of blocks away.  I was jealous that only he got to hear the stories.  He would then spend the night in my dad’s studio on a mattress on the floor.  He ran up the steps to Michael’s apartment to do homework as Elizabeth and I piled into the back of the dark station wagon, the old leather seats cracking and sticking to my legs.  Michael lit a cigarette and pressed play on the cassette player and Randy Travis’s voice blared from the backseat speakers.

The three of us, barreling through the city, belting out, “I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever amen,” as buildings and city life sped by in a blur outside of our windows.

“Oh, I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever, amen.”

*****

Excuse the lack of editing, the girls are awake.  I’m preparing for my Dad’s funeral next week and digging up the good memories.  Today I am happily putting on my rose colored glasses and remembering good times.  Thanks for reading and again please excuse the quick edit.