Tuesday, September 4, 2012


2 : to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

Friday afternoon, I went to my bank.  I had received a new check card in the mail earlier that week and activated it.  While I was able to use it as a credit card, any time I tried to use the PIN, it wouldn't work.  The same thing had happened to me two years prior when I received a new card.  So I thought I knew what I needed to do: go to the nearest branch and have them manually reset my PIN.  But when I got there Friday afternoon, the tellers had another theory: because my old card expired September 1, the new card wouldn't work with a PIN until September 1.  This theory worried me - partly because we had a three day weekend coming and I would have no access to cash if they were wrong.  After waiting for more than twenty minutes for them to contact someone and get confirmation on my situation, they encouraged me to leave, assuring me that my card would work Saturday, September 1.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that my card did not work Saturday.  As I drove back to the bank this morning to have the problem corrected, I was thinking about how this situation made me feel.  It made me angry, certainly, that I had to make two trips to get a problem corrected and that I had to rely on J for cash over Labor Day weekend.  But what bothered me the most was that the tellers didn't listen to me.  I told them more than once that I had the same problem with my previous card, yet they were convinced their own conclusions were the right ones.

As we've been readying ourselves to move into our new home, I've realized I have some shame about moving into a larger home.  I became aware of this when I met the home inspector at the conclusion of his inspection and he asked how large the house is.  I was embarrassed to tell him.  J and I have discussed why I feel this way and I have a difficult time untangling my feelings, but I think it relates to my fear of being seen that competes with my desire to be seen.

I have good reason to be afraid of being seen.  As the child of an alcoholic, it's always best to be able to blend into the background.  Being seen could equal being on the receiving end of verbal abuse.  But I learned to be afraid of being seen in other ways as well.  Picture an elementary school cafeteria:  It's loud.  Kids are jostling, joking, laughing as they stand in line to get their lunches.  I finally have my lunch and am sitting at the table.  Partway through the meal, a boy in my class has his tray bumped.  The jello on it starts wiggling.  Something in his brain makes a connection and he says loudly to the classmates around him, "Look!  This jello looks like Shannon when she runs."  Laughter erupts and I want to disappear.  Being seen can mean being known, being cared for, being loved.  It can also mean pain.

So I've gone through life alternately wanting to be seen, acknowledged and accepted for who I am and simultaneously wanting to blend into the background.  Last week I read a series of Richard Rohr devotions on the concept of paradox and its place within faith.  Those writings left me pondering whether this is one paradox I will always live with: fear and desire competing in my heart when I think about or experience being seen.

Being heard doesn't bring the same baggage for me.  I'm not a loud mouth.  I don't dominate conversations.  I like to listen.  So when I do speak up, I want people to listen to me.  I am speaking for a reason.  I can't always choose whether I am seen or not.  My body is present and visible no matter what I do.  But I can choose whether I speak or stay silent.  And I don't talk to fill the space.  I do it because I need to communicate something, want to share a story or experience or simply desire connection with another human being.

I'm not sure how to apply all of this insight into my own heart to my interactions with others.  I can't know whether someone wants to be seen or not (hopefully most people have more pleasant fourth grade memories than I do!).  What I can do is listen.  Whether it's one of my children struggling with an assignment, a friend who needs to talk or a stranger with a question, I can listen.  And in doing so offer them what I long for - to be heard.

1 comment:

Natalie said...

well, I think you have put into words something that I maybe didn't even realize about myself. I will do just about anything to keep from drawing attention to myself, yet I want to matter and have a voice.

My heart hurt for fourth grade Shannon when I read this. There is nothing worse than EVERYONE looking at you and laughing when you don't want to be seen at all.

Thank you for your words, Shannon.