My spiritual director shared a self-knowledge tool called four panes of the window: The first pane is what you and everyone else know about you; the second pane is what you know about you, but others do not; the third pane is what others know about you, but you do not know; and the fourth pane is what only God knows—you and others are clueless.
The third pane intrigued me—how can others know a “me” who is so different from the “me” I know? Although I had not previously had this image for it, I was aware of the phenomenon.
One of my earliest insights into this mystery came soon after I graduated from college and was considering what to do with my life. Should I move back to Virginia? Back to Michigan? Stay in Pennsylvania? Try someplace new?
I decided to move back to Virginia to see how it would feel. A friend invited me to stay with her, and I was fortunate enough to find work. But after a few months, it did not feel right, so I moved back to Pennsylvania. I stayed for a few months and then moved to Michigan. That lasted a few months and then I was back in Pennsylvania. At this point a friend confronted me and told me how difficult it was for her that I kept coming and going.
I knew it was difficult for me to be so unsettled, but it never occurred to me that it would be difficult for anyone else. Up to this point, I had moved through my life believing I was invisible, that no one took any notice of me and that whether I stayed or left had no real impact. She corrected that perception, and with a fair amount of emotion, she told me something others knew about me that I did not know: I was visible. Eventually, I came to see that not only was I visible, but that I can actually be a fairly large presence. Who knew?
The idea that I was visible totally contradicted what I had believed about myself, what I thought everyone else knew about me and what I thought God knew about me.
Even after all these years, I am still adjusting to the notion that I am visible. While I still find experiences of being invisible familiar, I now also find them curious—how is it possible that I am completely invisible to some people and so very visible to others? It is a mystery.
What I have learned to do, though, is to try to be more attentive to the third pane of the window, more sensitive to the impact I have on others and more aware of how I move through the world.