Hiding in Plain Sight

Photo by Dennis Messié (Flickr/Creative Commons License)

Photo by Dennis Messié (Flickr/Creative Commons License)

She was having a bad morning. You could tell even from a distance. There’s a way a person’s face gets when they cry; flesh gets bound and twisted. She approached her morning coffee spot from a distance with a staggered gate. Her head, floating over her bright-pink coat, jerked suddenly from the short breath she took to compose herself before walking through the door.

She never made eye contact with anyone once inside. Her head was aimed at the floor a meter ahead. Methodically, she stepped toward the counter. There was a rhythm to it — as if she were marking her trip by the square tiles under her feet. Upon reaching the cashier, she looked at the menu, down to the counter, picked up her drink, and made way for the door. 

Stepping into the grey and off the curb, she paused. Her back curled and her shoulders dropped. Her head shook slowly, “no.” And she walked away with the same staggered gate.

Unless you’d seen her approaching, you’d have never known her emotional state. Or, at least you wouldn’t have been triggered enough to ask. Unless you saw her in her alone moment, you wouldn’t have wondered about her distress. In the company of the many, she was just another body — another person properly queued, caffeinated, and off to be a productive citizen at home or work.

I know well enough that she is everybody. She is you. And she sure as hell is me. We’ve become adept at untwisting ourselves just enough to hide in plain sight. Because we can’t share our distress with just anybody. We’ve been burned by that before; by people who used our pain to feel better about theirs. The things we need, the things we feel, the things we pray, are left for secret.

I hope what Jesus says is true; that the secrets are heard by God — not just our best offerings of thanks and praise — but that our wordless prayers seeking understanding and meaning will find a holy ear, too. I hope that, somewhere behind the facades we build, God is listening and will gift us with peace. I hope it for her. I hope it for me. And I most certainly hope it for you.

— Matthew Johnson