25 February 2014

The Invisible One

Even as a child, I was both shy and a perfectionist. Since I wasn't about to attract attention by being outrageous and I tried so hard to do everything perfectly, I was really only noticed when I did something wrong, and when that happened, I was noticed long enough for the chew-out and then dropped after that. Then in my teens, in the church youth group, they all ignored me. I was the definition of 'wallflower.' Even when I would try to insert myself into a conversation, they would just look over my head and keep right on talking to each other as if I had never made a sound.

When people ignore you that steadfastly for that long, you start to believe that you actually are invisible (in a 'if-I-close-my-eyes-you-can't-see-me' sort of way) and nothing you say or do matters anyway -- at least, not in a good way. You start to believe that invisibility, unobtrusiveness, is a skill to be prized and defended with your life and if anybody notices you, you must be doing something Incredibly Annoying and therefore they probably hate you for making their lives more difficult by being one more person they have to look at. You make yourself smaller and smaller, shrinking down, shrinking in, trying desperately not to get in anybody's way while at the same time desperately needing them to see you and tell you they care... I've always had this struggle of wanting to be noticed and liked, but not wanting to be noticed -- the logic being if I'm noticed, it must be because I'm being Incredibly Annoying or in someone's way.

All that preamble is so that I can say this: One of the strangest things about being at college is the fact that people talk to me.

Sure, people back home talk to me too, but you get the sense that a lot of them really only do it because they have to... because I live in their house and go to their church. But at college, I can walk down a hallway and have three people -- people I don't even hang out with or know outside of class -- smile and greet me by name. This sounds so minor, but it's so weird. I fully expected to be a number here. This is college, after all... this is a big place and everybody's busy. Nobody knows anybody's name in high school, never mind college... right?

Apparently this is not the case. This is a rather small school (by post-secondary standards), but still -- there's five hundred students here. And it's not just the students -- the profs will greet me by name in the hallways or at church (when you're in a Bible college town, you see profs at church). I mean, the profs! These people see how many faces in just one day -- the fact that they remember mine blows my mind. And even people who I swear I've never seen before in my life... they'll sit down beside me at the cafeteria, greet me by name, and ask how I'm doing. It's so weird. How is it that my face stands out to anybody as recognisable? Before college, I can't remember the last time anybody called me by name and was genuinely glad to see me (aside from three particular friends at my home church). But on the first day back at college after Christmas break, I had at least three people come up and hug me and say they were so happy to see me again. People don't tell me these things back home. I'm lucky to get asked if I could clean out the dishwasher before supper.

It's hard to know what to do with this. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate being noticed and -- dare I say? -- accepted. But what do you do when suddenly you are no longer invisible and people know your name? I've been invisible for so long that I got used to being invisible. It became something that defined me. I could always hide behind this cloak of apparent invisibility if the world got to be too much for me. I can't do that here. Half the college knows me. I do enjoy it, but I'm really at a loss how to respond.

Is this what life is really like? If so... I could get used to it...

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