How are you?
A common greeting among family, friends, acquaintances. On most days, a response that requires little to no thought. It’s reflexive, automatic. Sometimes, meaningless.
“I’m fine. How are you?”
On occasion, the response might vary slightly, depending on circumstances as well as who is inquiring.
“I’m a bit tired.”
“I’m not feeling well.”
Regardless, it’s a pretty basic question not requiring—or typically expecting—an in-depth response.
There are times in our lives, however, when the question, “How are you?” renders us speechless. When responding with, “Fine” is not only a blatant lie, it is simply impossible to utter.
As of late I can’t help but fee like that question is feels contrived, expected, robotic. I believe persons asking it genuinely care, I believe they are asking because they truly want to know. But, I have no answer. At least not one that I can honestly share with most people. It’s too much sometimes. The reality of my current truth, isn’t something that I am capable of sharing with everyone that asks me how I am.
I know how to answer the question, “How are you?” I don’t want folks to constantly ask me. I don’t want anyone to ask me because I will simply not know how to respond, creating a layered situation that I am sure many won’t want to hear about.
Do many of you want to hear the truth and be okay when I do not have an answer? I want you to know that, while I can chat about life and responsibilities, that is in no way an indication of how I am doing. I’m doing what I have to do to function.
I’ve asked the question, “How are you?” of friends and acquaintances countless times, truly wanting to know the answer. I now look back and wish I had asked a different question.
I wonder how many times someone responded with, “Fine” because they had no idea what to say. I wonder how many times someone wanted to shrug and say, “I don’t know” but didn’t because it’s uncomfortable. I wonder how many times I could have said something differently, something that would cause the other person to be able to shrug and say, “I don’t know,” and then we could sit and talk or not talk, and both would be okay.
I think from this point on when someone in my life is going through a difficult time, I will change my question.
I will change my question because I want them to know that I do want to know. I don’t want a canned response. I will change my question because I want them to be able to shrug their shoulders, stare at me blankly, and not know how to respond. I want them to be able to answer me with whatever words they can find that may not be an attempt to answer my question but are the words they need to speak. I want them to be able to say nothing at all and know that I hear them. That I know they are not okay and have no idea what words to utter that can possibly convey what they are experiencing.
So, do ask. Ask how I am. Ask others how they are. Ask with different words. Ask with words that convey complete acceptance of whatever the response may be. Ask knowing that they may not be able to respond.
Ask and make sure that you don’t accept “I’m fine” when you know that is not the truth.