Lessons from the Invisible People

(Originally posted on the Huffington Post.)

I heard a rumor that the Invisible Man and the Invisible Woman had a child together… but it was nothing to look at. I hope that horrible joke is enough to get you to hang around for what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story” about the invisible groups in our society.

Many groups of people are rarely seen or heard. They can be found in every state, city, and town. More often than not, they are a collection of people with challenges from which our country often attempts to hide. They are people who face bigger challenges daily than many of us will face over our lives. There is a common bond between all these invisible groups — the lack of money and power. Consequently, they are without a voice.

The people who make up the invisible citizens include the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak. That lost segment of our communities includes the poor, homeless, hungry, mentally challenged, parentless children, broke seniors, unskilled, uneducated, and chronically or terminally ill. The reasons they face these challenges are as varied as the ways to help these people.

We occasionally defend why we shouldn’t have to address some of these problems. We often blame the people facing these challenges for their situations, which is sometimes the case, but more often than not, these invisible men, women, and children have had little control over circumstances that placed them where they are. The blame game is a crutch and a way to remove ourselves from the “how do we fix this” equation. We talk about people who don’t want to work. We blame the homeless person, the addict, the alcoholic, or the AIDS patient for where they are. We ignore the need for early childhood education for all children. We try to deny that our healthcare system needs some serious renovations.

I need to share two experiences I had this year that were wonderful lessons and messages from one of those invisible groups. My hobby is volunteering with Habitat For Humanity. I am a carpenter, so it is a good fit, and I like how the concept works. Habitat For Humanity gives good people living in substandard housing a hand up; not a handout. The mission of Habitat involves helping these good people build and buy their home. These families are referred to as partner families because they work with Habitat building homes to qualify to buy a home. This is referred to as sweat equity.

The first lesson I got came from a hard-working woman who was buying one home where I volunteered my labor. Her income capabilities were limited, but with Habitat helping to keep the home affordable, she could make the house payment and be a homeowner. The floor system was in place, and the lines where the walls were to be built were marked on the floor. I asked her to come up on the floor, and I started to show her where the rooms were. She didn’t seem to be listening to me as she stared at the plywood floor. When she spoke, she left me with words that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It will be so nice not to have to worry about falling through the floor of my home.” She didn’t speak about the size of the kitchen or living room. Her biggest concern was falling through the floor. I have never had that worry.

The second lesson and blessing I received came from a 10-year-old boy about a month after the “holes in the floor” lesson. After we framed the walls for this young man’s home, we all signed the framing. It is a symbolic statement that we will forever be part of the home and family. No matter what the family faces while in their home, they will not face it alone. They will have the thoughts and prayers of those who worked on the home. I always write over the front door, “May you find peace in this home built with love.” After I signed over the front door, I asked the boy whether he had signed his room yet. He grabbed a marker and headed off to his room. A short time later, I went into the room he would share with his two brothers, searching for what he had written. On one of the studs, I found four words written that made me grin from ear to ear (and yes, tear up a bit).

“Are Room Is Awesome”

The home, by most standards, would be very modest. The room was not that large, and the three sons in this family would share it, but in his eyes, it was awesome. Even though he missed the first word just a bit, his four words spoke volumes and put my world in perspective one more time.

So, I ask you to remember that these invisible groups aren’t like the Invisible Man and Woman’s child. They are real, and we need one another because none of us can make it through this life alone. Ask yourself how you can make a difference for some of our invisible people. I will warn you that you might learn a lesson or two from the invisible men, women, and children that will help you appreciate your blessings, keep things in perspective, and make you grin from ear to ear.


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