Most of us are raised with at least some social graces and when we greet someone we know, it’s just habit to ask “How are you”. It’s an innocent gesture, right? Of course…Until it becomes barbed, intrusive, and sometimes even anger inducing to us. For the last almost ten months, I’ve discreetly dodged people closing in on me so I don’t have to hear it or I’ll grit my teeth while politely smiling and say I’m fine.
Maybe you’re thinking “ but what if they really want to know?” Let’s put it like this: it’s like a guy taking a girl on the first date and she starts planning he wedding. He’s thinking “geez, it was just a date”. That’s how it feels when you answer that question truthfully after the death of a loved one. I’ve tried talking about the desperation and sadness and then I see discomfort and nervousness instantly come across their face and they’re thinking, it was just a simple question. They expect the usual “I’m great! How are you?!”, but get far more than they bargained for. A friend told me fairly soon after Vince’s death that it feels like people just want to check off their good deed box and go on about their day and after a few times, I completely saw what she was talking about. After a while we get that physical response so much that we go on autopilot and say either “Meh” or “I’m fine, thank you.”
A pastor, whose whole family had become family friends at this point, had his mom visit for a sermon a few months back. This lady was sweet and patient and oh so gracious and peaceful. I told her how the question is so uncomfortable and this wonderful woman said: “Why don’t you try using a scale? Like a patient’s pain level, answer the ‘how are you’ with ‘ if it was on a scale, I would be at a five’. That lets them know where you’re at without getting into the unpleasant details.” That little nugget of gold instantly grabbed me and I just love it. Does it make me hate “the question” less, no. I still have a resentment of it but I know in time it will get easier.
Whether people need to check off their box or genuinely are concerned, at the end of the day, we have to remember that hurt people hurt people so we especially have to try EXTRA hard to be nice and gracious especially when hit with those uncomfortable questions. With time and practice, certain questions won’t feel as inflammatory and we’ll learn how to better accept the kindness that people offer. Until then, when someone asks me “how are you?” Instead of saying what we all feel at certain times, “how do you think I am”, I’ll practice grace and compassion and say “If put on a scale, probably a seven out of ten today but how are YOU?!”
Because in the end, kindness always wins and we know how it feels for that bone deep pain to cut through us and I know I, especially now, don’t ever want to hurt anyone else in any way. We also know that there will be a time when that person needs OUR support and I want them to feel comfortable in coming to me for advice. I know I’ll have a tight hug for them when they do.