It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way
one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be
taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping
the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see
me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of
hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock
to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is
the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’
Some days I’m a crystal ball; ‘Where’s my other sock?, Where’s my phone?,
What’s for dinner?’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes
that studied history, music and literature – but now, they had disappeared
into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s
going, she’s gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she
was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there,
looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to
compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she
turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you
this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly
sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘With admiration
for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’
In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. I would discover
what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could
pattern my work:
1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record
of their names.
2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never
3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
4) The passion of their building was fuelled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.
A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird
on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man,
‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that
will be covered by the roof. No one will ever see it’
And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost
as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you. I see the sacrifices you
make every day, even when no one around you does.
No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve
baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to
notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see
right now what it will become.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of
the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work
on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went
so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime
because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the
morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3
hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a
monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there
is anything more to say to his friend, he’d say, ‘You’re gonna love it
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel,
not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the
world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.
➖Original author: Nicole Johnson