The Invisible Man

Autumn 2011 #9

So… there was a man with three eyes, no arms and one leg trying to hitch a ride.  Walk a mile in his shoe, as they say, and you will appreciate the challenge that he faced.  Anyway, there he was, hopping up and down on the spot and flashing his three eyes at every passing car; but nobody pulled over for him, in fact no one paid him a moment’s attention.  Which is odd, given that it’s not every day one sees a three eyed, one-legged man with no arms.   “Am I invisible or something?” he thought to himself.  But just at that moment a car braked rapidly to a stop and reversed back.  A door flew open, a cheery face appeared, “Aye aye aye, you look pretty ’armless, hop in!”

There was another man with a wheel chair, a mobile phone, and a bunch of little printed cards which sometimes served instead of a voice.  This man was trying to get into a shop, a rather difficult sort of shop, which had a steep, rubberised concrete ramp from the footpath up to its plate-glass, non-automatic doors.  So steep was this ramp that the only way the man in the wheel chair could negotiate it was in reverse – a little trick he had previously learned about his power chair and sharp inclines.  He needed to access this particular store, and so he waited for the next customer coming, hoping ride in on their coat tails.  He waited, and waited, and a score of focused, busy people came and went from the glass doors, but not one of them stopped.  He even tried a tentative wave once or twice, without any effect at all.

The man chose one of his printed cards, the one that said, “Sorry, no voice”, and held it hopefully towards a few pedestrians as they sprinted up and down the rubberised concrete ramp.  A certain, creeping loneliness descended on the man in the wheelchair as the shopping crowd paid him no attention whatsoever.   “Am I invisible or something?” he thought to himself. 

His next strategy was to type into his phone, in large black letters, a simple statement of the predicament:

“Could you hold the door please?”


Douglas Adams best describes the escalation of invisibility that immediately beset the man in the wheelchair.  In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the Starship Bistromath is able to land smack in the midst of a cricket match at Lord’s, rendered invisible by its SEP field.  In the words of the intergalactic hitchhiker Ford Prefect:

An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s Somebody Else’s Problem…  The brain just edits it out; it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.

No longer did the general public simply ignore the man on the footpath, now they seemed able to stare right through him; and the creeping tide of loneliness swelled to a deluge of alienation.  “Am I really that strange?” thought the man.  It was a vaguely terrifying feeling to discover that the public, normally so friendly and helpful, could become cold and ambivalent to his plight.  Balancing on a precipice of isolating self-pity, the invisible man realised that he had passed a tipping point; that his form had become somehow unpalatable to those around him. He was too different.  He saw that he had become so absorbed in the crisis of circumstance that he himself had, for a moment, forgotten to reach out.  Needing help, he had unwittingly alienated himself from his helpers. 

It was an epiphany.  The invisible man put away the cards, put down the phone, and simply smiled.  He sensed a change in the river of humanity.  He was becoming visible once more. The relief at re-entering the world of men and women was so intoxicating that his smile broadened, and was for a moment in danger of spreading to a manic grin – the catastrophic result of which would have certainly been instantaneous propulsion back into SEP oblivion!

The erstwhile invisible man caught someone’s eye, and they responded to his smile, read the message on his phone, and gladly broke their stride to assist.  The man rather awkwardly drove backwards up the rubberised ramp and delicately edged through the sheet-glass doors.  An exchange of smiles was enough to convey gratitude and willingness from either side of the bond.   

What a relief!  What a lesson.  Just smile, and bridge the gap. 


5 thoughts on “The Invisible Man

  1. Pateena Smerdon

    Hi Roderick,
    What an amazeing man you are just love reading your blog you are a very tallented writer.Keep up your great work

  2. sharon

    This really touched me Roderick…first a sinking feeling of panic…then the Light breaks through the darkness…in a smile, a change of attitude. This is something I will remember as I go down the same path. You have discovered the language of ALS, when words can no longer be spoken, the heart will speak.

  3. Ah, there’s that familiar thought of yours Sharon, ‘the language of each disability’. I’m still seeing that only ‘through a glass dimly!’ I will keep looking though.

  4. Thank you Kathleen, such a simple aspect of relationship isn’t it? Good to remind each other of the simple things now and then. Good to hear from you again!

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