Healing the Exquisite Pain of Being on the Outside

I expect most of you have felt bypassed and invisible. We all want attention, at least some of the time. Respect. Notice. Recognition. It is like water to a flower, necessary for life.

The recently ended AMC TV series, Mad Men, illustrated this in a brief scene with an unknown actor. Evan Arnold played Leonard, a no longer youthful man who has accepted his invisibility — accepted that he is unloved and unlovable. The creator of the series, Matthew Weiner, called this perhaps the most important scene in the entire run of a TV show that began on July 19, 2007.

Rather than say more, I will let the actor embody something with which you can identify. Leonard’s understated lament is, at bottom, what brings many people into psychotherapy. Even if you haven’t experienced his pain yourself, I bet someone close to you has. Evan Arnold’s delivery of a group therapy monologue lasts less than three minutes. His “refrigerator” metaphor is unforgettable. In the space of these few moments, Leonard is every man, every woman, every child — and we are he.

20 thoughts on “Healing the Exquisite Pain of Being on the Outside

  1. That’s heartbreaking. It’s like he (and as you say, we) have internalized the idea that even his unhappiness doesn’t matter, because it isn’t “big” unhappiness — no abuse, no big tragedy in his life, nothing dramatic. And yet it still hurts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drgeraldstein

      You make an excellent point, Nina. It is as if there is no more room in the world for modest ambitions. Have we been seduced by all the other lives that were, for almost all of human history, invisible to us — “the (outward) lives of the rich and famous?” A rhetorical question — unless someone has an answer. Thanks for your provocative comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a poignant reflection! I’ve never watched the program and I am wondering if this is typical of the content? Somehow I thought it was more about comedy? I am curious about how Leonard ended up there.
    There is so much pathos in this clip. I agree that many people (myself included) experience this invisibility but then I also have assumed that that’s just life. To be invisible is to be human, especially in today’s high pressure, self centered cultured. You swallow that invisibility and move to the next moment, where maybe you are more visible. Or not.
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Thanks, JT. Mad Men is definitely worth seeing from the beginning of its long run. I say that as someone who watches very little TV. Mad Men is a dark, but realistic vision of the USA in the decades from the ’50s to the ’70s, focused on the advertising business, social/political events and their influence, and the personal lives of a number of characters of both sexes. Like a Tolstoy novel or a Mahler Symphony, it attempts to encompass the world. The “Leonard” character appeared only in those three minutes or so in the clip, so he is inessential to the plot, except as he reveals something about possible changes in “Don Draper” (played by Jon Hamm) the man who you see at the beginning and the end of the clip.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. And during the night I remembered this quote from John Steinbeck:
    “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”
    It goes both ways, heh?

    Liked by 3 people

    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed!

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    • Oh yay! I just added the clip & the Steinbeck quote to my unit-planning notes for To Kill a Mockingbird next year 🙂

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      • drgeraldstein

        I’m happy to be the benefactor to your students in this small way. I imagine it will be interesting to hear and see those kids’ reactions. I don’t recall any teacher before college getting to anything as personal as “Leonard’s” monologue.

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      • I figure it’s a nice connection to understanding the point of Boo Radley’s character.

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      • drgeraldstein

        Wish I could say I’d read it (or seen the movie), but your comment might cause me to do the former. Thanks!

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  4. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a “Leonard,” but I can identify with some of what he said. I haven’t watched a single show in the series so I have no concept of the premise – what it is about – or these characters.

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  5. I didn’t watch the series, so was unable to understand the relevance of the scene. However, taken by itself, Leonard’s confession reflects our emphasis on status and stuff and not on the people in our lives, whether at home or in the workplace. Leonard, the father who works hard at the office to provide for his family, is viewed by his family as a mere provider of the stuff they need to make them happy in life. This is so well expressed in his dream of sitting on a shelf in the refrigerator.

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  6. lovedeferredisnotlost

    I think I just watched my husband and my AP embrace. After all these years of feeling unseen, I am now the one needing to do the seeing.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Who is who? One has the back story delivered in the clip. The other has a much more complicated back story and not one entirely admirable. Much depends on whether you know a lot about the hugger (Don Draper) vs. Leonard. Just trying to make sure I understand your meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. lovedeferredisnotlost

    I have watched the show (though not to completion), so I know all about Don Draper. Truthfully, neither is an accurate representation of either my husband or my AP, but I imagine my husband is feeling like Leonard, unseen, unloved, taken for granted…I am trying to be better.

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  8. Wow… what a powerful scene. Ahh, the Human Condition. ¯\(°_o)/¯

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