At some point, long ago, JJ and I had a discussion on household labor, in the midst of which, I asked him if he believed he had a personal Drinking Glass Fairy. Every night the man fills a glass of water and sets it on his bedside to quench his middle-of-the-night thirsts. Yet, when he would arrive the following night with a fresh glass of water, the glass from the night before would have mysteriously vanished. Sometimes, I will admit, the fairy was tired and the night-before-glass only made it as far as the bathroom countertop.
It’s not necessarily his fault that he had never considered how the glasses magically moved from bedside to kitchen – let alone from countertop, to dishwasher, to cupboard, to table and back to dishwasher again. These things happen in an invisible fashion.
This is the nature of most of my work: invisible work. In a day’s time, I can complete a lot of work, none of it noticeable unless I suddenly stop doing it. Laundry magically appears fresh and clean, meals materialize out of no where, the pantry holding the contents for everyone’s favorite snack (unless, however, I forget).
It could be the nature of my current situation, the work of home tending, which makes it seem so invisible. Have no overseer, no boss with the power to fire me (believe me, I’ve tried). But most workplaces have their own version of invisible work, too. Those meaningful questions for students don’t magically appear without the invisible work of pedagogy; sales ride the tails of the invisible work of understanding human nature and connecting with needs and wants. We all have our own version of the work no one notices unless it’s left undone.
We’re coming off a season of the most intense invisible work of the year, IMHO. The understanding of our loved ones, the seeking out of perfect embodiments of our feelings and appreciation – this happens behind the scenes. Then – and let us all bend our knee – the Amazon Prime begins to happen. These little elves run a website so full of invisible miracles, and then with 1-Click powers and the Holy Spirit of UPS, brown packages arrive on our doorsteps in two days or less. If you want to talk about invisible work, let’s salute the gal (or guy) who decides how each truck, train and plane will move about the goods for the Man in Brown to deliver.
My friend Abby told me last year she had stayed up late on Christmas Eve, staging the scene, making a magical Christmas morning for her children. I was in awe (and a little dumbfounded – my Aim Low Parenting approach kept me from ever really considering what the living room looked like). Thanks to her invisible inspiration and a little of our own invisible work, I watched my oldest creep out to the living room in the early hours and, by the light of the Christmas tree, examine the evidence of Santa’s visit. It was a moment made for movies. Of course, he would have found the moment magical even if I hadn’t stood the gifts on their side as opposed to stacking them and shoving them under the tree. These bits of invisible work make our lives better, brighter and more beautiful.
And now, today, we return to the invisible work of feeding people meals and finding receipts and refereeing children. Know this, my friend: though the work seems invisible, you are not. I know, no matter how effortless you make it appear, the thought, the heart, even the sweat that goes into making your invisible work transform your home, work and relationships.