And Then One Day You Disappear

What does life become when the world no longer sees you?

Word and Photography
by John P Weiss

It was like she was invisible.

Seated on a stoop in an Italian piazza, the passing crowds ignored her completely. Perhaps some thought she was a street person down on her luck, but actually, she was part of my tour group.

In the photo she’s making a silly face, having spotted my camera and wanting to entertain.

Upon viewing the photo later, she laughed and said she looked like a bag lady. But that was only because of her hunched pose and wind-blown hair. If you looked closely that day, you’d see that she was dressed nicely and carrying a designer handbag.

And yet passersby ignored her.

I saw the same thing in other settings. Store clerks focused on younger patrons, seemingly oblivious to my travel companion waiting for assistance. There was even a waiter in an Italian bistro who walked past her to help an attractive, younger customer.

Robert Browning wrote,“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…” but perhaps he overstated the matter. When the bloom of youth fades like the last light of a glorious sunset, the ensuing darkness can be hard to take.

Aging is not for the faint of heart.

The most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man

The author Akiko Busch published a lovely book in 2019 titled, “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency.

My copy of Akiko Busch’s “How to Disappear.” 📸 : John P. Weiss
My copy of Akiko Busch’s “How to Disappear.” 📸 : John P. Weiss

Busch notes:

“The invisible woman might be an actress no longer offered roles after her fortieth birthday, the fifty-year-old woman who can’t land a job interview, or the widow who finds her dinner invitations declining with the absence of her husband. It might be an older woman in a restaurant who is ignored by the waiter, unable to get a glass of water when she sits down at the table, or later, the check when she is ready to leave. When she pays for a purchase in a store, a cashier might call her ‘honey.’ She is the woman who finds that she is no longer the subject of the male gaze, youth faded, childbearing years behind her, social value diminished.”

And gents, don’t think you’re any better off.

Leon Trotsky said, “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man.” In the movie “Elegy,” Ben Kingsly plays David Kapesh, an aging yet renowned university professor and author who has an affair with a beautiful young student played by Pénelope Cruz.

Needless to say, things don’t work out well. And Kapesh, mirroring Trotsky, says, “…the biggest surprise in a man’s life is old age.”

Of course, beauty and youth can have their disadvantages.

In “Elegy,” a poet friend of Kapesh (played by Dennis Hopper) says, “Beautiful women are invisible. We’re so dazzled by the outside we never make it inside.”


Youth and good looks seem to be king. And there’s a sad place, somewhere around middle age, when we realize that we’re beginning to disappear.

We notice that people pay less attention to us. We seem to be overlooked more. We see the wrinkles, sags, and slow deterioration of our bodies. We start to feel a bit irrelevant.

Ageism becomes very real, as younger folks disregard or condescend to us. Even the youthful pilots in the second Top Gun movie refer to Tom Cruise’s character Maverick as “Pops.”

What does life become when the world no longer sees you?

There is a fountain of youth

My mother was a Barbizon model in New York.

She appeared in various fashion magazines and advertisements. Wherever she went, her youth and beauty drew attention.

My mother in her youth
My mother in her youth

But eventually, Father Time catches up with all of us.

Mom aged beautifully and gracefully, but child-rearing and middle age are unforgiving. Then, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

I don’t recall my mother ever lamenting the passage of youth and its attendant beauty. She fed her mind with books, enjoyed her closest friends, and lived for her family.

And she never lost her sense of fashion.

My father-in-law referred to Mom as “The trinket lady” due to her fancy necklaces, rings, and jewelry. “No matter how old I get, I want to look nice,” my mother told me.

Mom understood that there were ways to defeat the indignities of aging and the waning of one’s looks.

First, she insisted on dressing well. No sweats and sloppy outfits. Second, she read deeply and developed a knack for artful conversation. Third, she possessed a healthy sense of humor and was able to laugh at the things many of us might cry about. Fourth, she loved her family and lived vicariously through us.

And fifth, she relished the pleasure of good food and desserts.

Mom enjoying an immense hot fudge sundae
Mom enjoying an immense hot fudge sundae

In short, my mother reinvented herself. She knew it’s impossible to hold onto youth and looks, and that deeper things can take up residence in our personal development.

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” —Sophia Loren

Things like wisdom, knowledge, depth, maturity, and a joyful heart unshackled from the superficial trappings of youthful appearance. Even near the end of Mom’s life, she radiated a positive attitude and endearing zest for life.

With my mother, in her pearls and designer clothing
With my mother, in her pearls and designer clothing

Mom’s flashy style, cheerful disposition, hearty laugh, and colorful personality demanded attention.

She reinvented herself, remained intellectually curious, and transcended the limitations of aging and even Parkinson’s disease. As I started to grapple with my own descent into the vicissitudes of middle age, I looked to my mother for guidance.

She showed me that there’s far more to life than youth and looks.

She taught me that when you start to disappear, and the world no longer sees you one way, there’s another way to become. The way of elegance, dignity, maturity, depth, intellectual growth, and even a bit of reckless abandon.

I think she realized that our senior years free us.

We don’t have to waste any more time caring about wrinkles, a few extra pounds, keeping up with the Joneses, and all the other superficial worries that blind us to the better things in life.

Stuff like our loved ones, great books, fine meals, creative passions, and the love of family and friends.

The flame dances

Someday old age will come calling.

Our youthful selves will start to disappear, and the world will no longer see us. At least, not the way it used to. And when that happens, we have to make some choices.

Some folks won’t go down without a fight.

They’ll max out their credit cards with Botox injections, nips, tucks, hair transplants, guru diets, and whatever else they can find to keep the wolf of aging at their door.

But the wolf always finds a way in.

Then what?

Somewhere Towards the End 📸 : John P. Weiss
Somewhere Towards the End 📸 : John P. Weiss

The author Diana Athill, in her memoir “Somewhere Towards the End,” wrote:

“All through my sixties I felt I was still within hailing distance of middle age, not safe on its shores, perhaps, but navigating its coastal waters. My seventieth birthday failed to change this because I managed scarcely to notice it, but my seventy-first did change it. Being ‘over seventy’ is being old: suddenly I was aground on that fact and saw that the time had come to size it up.”

Best not to become one of those sad desperados clinging to their fading youth. We’ve all seen them, especially the Hollywood crowd, with their stretched faces and sad eyes.

There’s a kind of freedom in not fighting it anymore.

There’s a tremendous joy in letting go and focusing on deeper, more meaningful things. Yes, I miss my fuller blonde locks and six-pack abs. It was nice when a cute girl would smile as I walked into the coffee shop.

But there are fuller joys now.

When I compose a decent essay and someone writes to tell me how much it means to them, I feel a kind of radiance inside. When my wife and I reminisce about past travels and exploits together, there’s a contentment that fills me. When a young person seeks my advice and I can help, I realize that I’m paying it forward and that this is as it has always been.

The old teach the young.

Maybe even inspire them. We become docents for their future old age. We show them the way to age gracefully and with dignity. It’s how we leave a bit of a legacy.

The trick is to allow the music in your soul to keep playing. There’s a flame in your heart that wants to keep dancing, regardless of how old you are.

“Just before the sparks of life are extinguished from a candle, the flame dances. It sends a wistful, thin smoke line up into the air, where it circles and pirouettes before it vanishes toward the sky. Light a candle and watch that dance, learn about life and its last breaths.”—Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, from ‘Small Miracles of Love and Friendship’

Keep your flame lit, let it dance in your heart, and you won’t disappear. The world will still see you.

Because you’re lighting the way for all who follow.


  1. Wise article but the problem is that life, for me anyway, was a great ride. As it slowly diminishes physically one cannot help but miss those days of youth with extreme longing. To compensate i suggest one find a passion or a cause close to one’s heart and create an entirely new adventure with it. Surprising how good you’ll get at it.

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