Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am invisible

I guess that bargain hunting in the sales probably bring out the worst in us all but I almost came to blows with a shop assistant yesterday. I had picked up a box of bath goodies from the shelf. There was a price tag and there was a 10% discount sticker and it was exactly what I was looking for. I took it along to the woman at the till.

Apparently it was the last box like that and because it was the last box like that they were unwilling to sell it! It was a display item and not for sale – despite being on the shelf, with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker. However, I was assured that I could have the box free if I spent £15 on other items in the shop.

I politely assured them that if there was anything else I wanted to buy from the shop, that would be ideal, but it was just that particular box that I wanted. She wouldn’t sell it to me.

I went home and complained to Joe. He told me that if the shop, the box and I were in England, there would be no dispute. The box on the shelf with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker constitutes an invitation for the customer to buy and they would have to sell it to me. In Scotland the same box with the same the price tag and the same sticker is an invitation for the shop to sell it, but they don’t have to sell it if they don’t want to!

For the past two weeks I have been ferrying a similar box of bath goodies in the back of the car. I finally gave to away to someone who I hadn’t anticipated seeing before Christmas!

For the last few months I had been buying my “Big Issue” from a lady outside Tesco’s. The box of bath goodies had been intended as a Christmas present. I appreciate that as much as I would like to invite her into the cafĂ© for a cup of tea or coffee, she has a quota of magazines to sell and time and opportunities are precious.

Just a few weeks before Christmas as I was handing over my money and rolling up the magazine to fit into a pocket, she thanked me and then went on to say, “I am invisible.” She was hurt by the rejection of so many shoppers scurrying into the supermarket, wheeling out their overflowing trollies an hour or so later.

I have walked past enough Big Issue sellers to know that there are times when I deliberately don’t look in their direction. I choose not to see the person. Sometimes it is about not having the money on me, sometimes it is about not having the time or willingness to stop and dig out the purse, sometimes it is about a vague resentment that I feel I am being manipulated to feel sorry, sometimes it is the voice inside that wants to ask why they can’t get a proper job instead.

I don’t know what circumstances lead to people being on the street, but those words “I am invisible” have lodged somewhere inside my heart. Those words refuse to become invisible and challenge me to “see” the people that think they are invisible and do something that tells them they are not!

1 comment:

Mark H said...

Do you reckon one of the things Zacchaeus might have felt was "invisible"? - though for very different reasons.

As you know, we've been praying for a young woman who has been sleeping on the streets. She was over the moon at the weekend to have started selling the Big Issue. She no longer feels as invisible as she did when she was just begging. People would totally ignore her when she was begging, whereas now some people will stop by - selling the Big Issue has made her more acceptable to (some) people.

One of the things we've done is to buy her a coffee and sit with her and learn from her what it's like to live as she lives, to find out how she got there and what the obstacles are to her escaping. It's amazing how our social care systems break down once certain lines are crossed - people really are left high and dry without help, care, or hope.

I'm reminded in those conversations of the discussion between Scrooge and the Spirit Of Christmas Present in a Christmas Carol, concerning the twins of man that hide under the Spirit's cloak:

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit, are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

It's so sad. Nobody is invisible to Jesus and our job is to re-present Him. You're doing a great job! You're asking difficult questions that most us want to ignore and offering friendship to this lady outside Tesco. We'll join with you in praying for her.