Several years ago, while I was getting my bachelor’s degree at a (not-cheap) private liberal arts university of my choice, I learned that my mom’s monthly paychecks were being deposited directly into an account I didn’t know about.
The account was set up specifically to pay my tuition, and nothing else.
I remember feeling a little taken aback when I found out, for a moment unworthy of the gift, and for another moment shocked that it would be given so quietly. No fanfare. No parade. No “look-at-what-a-good-mom-I-am” search for acknowledgement. Just my mom, showing up diligently to her job everyday, so I could go to college.
“This is what moms do for their kids.”
That’s what I remember her saying when I asked her about it, while she stood in the kitchen chopping vegetables.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about what an extravagant act it was, and yet how invisible. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I can tell you with certainty that I’ve never done anything that selfless for anyone, and when I do anything selfless at all, I usually I want the credit.
I have to admit: I’m terrified of being invisible.
In some moments I find myself tiptoeing around people, trying to protect feelings and relationships, never willing to be too loud or take up too much space. At other moments, probably when I get tired of being so quiet all the time, I feel like I’m slamming around in my life just to get someone to notice.
And to be perfectly honest, I’ve always wanted my story to be kind of loud too, to go down in the history books. I’ve dreaded the thought of being too quiet, wanting instead to be worth noticing, to make a splash.
But as I think about this story about my mom, and as I think about at least a dozen other quietly generous and beautifully simple and seemingly-invisible stories I’ve witnessed over the years, I can’t help but realize that a quiet story is not a bad story.
In fact, it might be the best story of all.
What happens in secret in our life is really the most important work we do, anyway. We don’t usually think of it like that. We think of those “in-the-spotlight” moments as being the most important. And while maybe they are the most glamorous…
The most challenging, most complicated, most terrifying work we do in our lives happens when nobody is watching. It’s all terribly unimpressive and quiet. And yet this is the work that takes real courage and strength.
- Forgiving ourselves and others
- Growing in faith and grace
- Centering ourselves and staying present
- Redirecting our negative thoughts
This is all the hard, behind-the-scenes work.
I’m starting to keep my eyes open for people who are living silent but beautiful stories.
Some of them are connected to my own, others are not. But all of them are connected to the broader story, the story we’re all writing together. All of them are valuable. I’m starting to celebrate them in a way I couldn’t have before.
And the weirdest things happens as I celebrate the quiet stories of others.
I’m not scared of being invisible anymore.