The Cloak of Invisibility

A senior walking
For many seniors, being invisible seems to be part of their everyday life. Photo: Pixabay

Hands up those of you who have ever wished you could be invisible. Right? Right? Me too! There are all kinds of reasons it would be fun, I used to think. You could do what you wanted, sneak into all kinds of forbidden places, get close to animals and birds (scent- and sound-free, as well), surprise your friends, sneak up on your brothers and so on.
As I grew up, there were several circumstances where I felt invisible—not always happily.

Being a receptionist/clerical worker in the 1980s was my first such experience when people I had worked closely with, in a volunteer capacity, walked right by me without any recognition. Sometimes being a young woman in meetings was another, although I have heard things said that would have been astonishing if I’d been visible. Invisibility through sexism seemed to be fairly common in those days. (Things have changed, I hope—right?)
I am sure there are many of you who can relate, for your own reasons, and I’m sure you know it never feels good.
Now that I’m older, being invisible seems to be part of my everyday life in many circumstances. This time it is invisibility through ageism, and it is most definitely not pleasant. For example, trying to explain the circumstances as to how your computer, tablet, TV or phone isn’t working can be such a chore when you’re older. Waiting in a queue for a bus and being overtaken by a younger person, or boarding a crowded bus only to find the senior’s seat occupied by an able-bodied person—all these are examples of being invisible.
Of course, there are circumstances where an older person can be quite visible. I heard this from a friend: “I was shopping in a drugstore, trying to decide what kind of deodorant to buy. I overheard one young person ask another where something was. They said that it was ‘right beside the old guy.’ I turned around to look … and it was me!”
And if I’m not invisible, I can be stereotyped or ridiculed or threatened. Jokes abound (about seniors) that would be quickly shut down if they were about any other group in society. Think about it the next time you’re browsing a card section in a store or reading some quipster on the internet.
I continue to hear stories about workplaces where older members are shunted aside or denied access to training or promotions. Sometimes the input of older workers is ignored or dismissed or minimized. Too bad, given the shortage of workers.
Governments can also contribute to the invisibility of seniors. For example, the Yukon did away with the word seniors in the only branch that had the title. Now we have the dubious distinction of being the only jurisdiction in Canada without a seniors branch. Some might call that shameful, especially if a senior with limited experience in technology tries to navigate the morass of the website.
The ironic thing is that I’m sure, in the past, seniors have been invisible to me, too, or else they have been little more than a nuisance (the garrulous person at a check-out, or the person who can’t remember their pin, or the person who is having trouble with that horrible plastic money, or …).

I hope I’ve learned enough that I think thrice before judging—and I hope that we, as a community, are all doing the same with our older friends, clients, family members, volunteers, co-workers, colleagues and contributors.
OK, you can put your hands down now (I can’t see you anyway). And thank you for taking the time to read this.

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