Karen Osborne

Back when I was a kid, I used to think it would be really cool to be invisible.

Like any kid, my thoughts back then were usually all about how invisibility could benefit me. Invisibility meant that I would be able to goof off as much as I wanted. It meant that I would hear what the other kids were saying about me when they thought I wasn’t listening.

Growing up, though, I discovered that invisibility isn’t as much fun as it sounds. Our world is full of invisible people: the poor, the homeless, the abused, the quiet and the vulnerable. These people often don’t get the support and help they need simply because people forget they exist. Being invisible often means not being treated like a human being. They’re forgotten, lost, treated like dirt.

Near my home, there’s an invisible man on the corner near a big downtown park. He’s there every afternoon, holding a backpack and sleeping bag, caked with dirt and staring at the ground. People hurry past him on their way to their offices or errands, hoping he won’t look up. Whether they choose not to see him, (or they are really that oblivious) nobody helps him. They’ve made him invisible.

I remember the invisible boy in my sophomore year math class. I remember that his family didn’t have a lot of money, and he was teased relentlessly by the popular kids for wearing his older brother’s uncool hand-me-downs. He had no friends. The more he was teased, the more he withdrew from the social life of the school.

By senior year, we all had forgotten his name, even though he’d been in our classes for four years. We made him invisible.

The poor and the different make us uncomfortable. We make them invisible so we don’t have to look at ourselves and realize just how badly we’re doing in making this world a just, equal place. It’s easy to avert our eyes from the bag lady on the church steps or the nerdy girl who spends all of her time in the computer lab. If they’re invisible to us, we can stay focused on our selfish needs.

Our society has a long history of making people invisible. We’ve even made laws codifying invisibility into legal practice. The Jim Crow laws of the 20th century segregated African-Americans from the white population. This made it much easier for the more fortunate to treat the less fortunate as if they weren’t human, let alone equal.

One of my favorite things about the New Testament is that it chronicles Jesus’ crusade to lift the curse of invisibility in his own time. Jesus regularly paid attention to those considered “invisible” in Roman times: lepers, women, foreigners and the poor.

Who are the invisible in your school? How can you help them into the light? Invite them to parties or game nights or ask them to be part of study groups or group projects. Simply compliment them. Showing someone that you’re thinking of them, such as saying “hello,” for example, or saying you like their outfit or what they said in class, can mean so much to someone who is used to being overlooked.

You can show them that they’re liked, that they’re worth it and that they are valued.