Seeing the invisibles

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about invisible people. Mentioning this to a friend this week, he wasn’t sure what I meant. I explained that invisible people are the people we encounter almost daily, but don’t “see.” Like the “smelly” guy at the next pump over at the gas station, and the person in front of you at Walmart paying with food stamps. Invisible people are everywhere. Doing the work I did for the past few years at Bevill State Community College, I met quite a few invisible people. They were the ones who were down on their luck and had given up hope of a better life. They tried to find work, but the good jobs seemed out of their reach. They often slipped into poverty and all that implies. When I managed to help some of them find jobs, their demeanor changed. Their inner light flickered back on. They became visible. Driving down the Interstate this past week, I noticed my gas gauge was listing toward “E,” so I looked for an exit. It was dusk and drops of rain began to splatter on my windshield. Approaching an exit, I clicked on the blinker and headed toward a filling station. At the end of the ramp was a red-light. Standing near the intersection was a man holding a sign that read “Hungry.” The car in front of me inched by the man as if he hadn’t seen him. Maybe he was invisible to them. I keep a few folded dollars on my console that I use for this purpose. Rolling down my window, I eased to the edge of the road and handed the man the money. He smiled, looked into my eyes, and said, “Thank you, sir. God bless you.” Some say these folks will probably use the money to buy cheap wine. That may be, but if so, it’s on them. If not, it’s on the people who don’t see that someone is in need. There was a guy that graduated in my class in high school. I’ll call him Dave. He wasn’t a member of the “in crowd.” He often ate alone in the lunchroom. He was there throughout school, but his classmates didn’t seem to see him. He was invisible. To be honest, I didn’t have much in common with him, either. I wasn’t a member of an “in crowd” either but my twisted sense of humor was hard to ignore. I wasn’t invisible. Years ago, while driving back from an appointment in Birmingham, I passed a stalled car on the side of the road just inside the city limits of Sumiton. The August sun was hotter than Satan’s asphalt driveway. Passing, I saw a red-faced man standing beside the car. There wasn’t much time before my next appointment, but glancing in the mirror, I told myself that I’d just have to be a little late. Heading back, I realized the man was Dave. He’d run out of gas and didn’t have a can. About 20 minutes later, we had gas in his tank, and were both on the road again. “Easy-peasy.” My lunch appointment was later than me so, the small detour cost me nothing, but Dave never forgot that small kindness. He mentioned it to me every time we met afterward. I don’t pretend to be a saint. Lord knows I have faults, but I try to “see” people. The hard part is seeing people without judging them. The thing is, no one knows what each of us goes through. Life can be difficult, but that shouldn’t make you invisible. Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Goes On is available on You can contact him via email at