How are you?
As an example of that integral part of me, I remember a time when my mother was discussing (gossiping about) a certain young cousin of mine. I was seventeen at the time, Young Cousin was fourteen. The discussion contained speculation that YC was pregnant. Knowing the social activities of YC, I was not surprised, but I found it interesting that the conversation continued for a very long time, speculating the "is she/isn't she" aspects of the problem, and reasoning with great detail as to why the first of the two speculations was probably true. I was frustrated that so much time was taken up with wondering about something that was none of our business, and that there was a healthy dose of "I told you so's" and "that's what you get's" thrown into the mix.
I waited until YC and I were on the schoolbus the next morning, then I sat with her, something I had never done before, and I asked her if she was pregnant. Her eyes got very big, she sat silently for a moment, then she said, "Yes." My sole purpose in asking, at first, was just because I was tired of the conjecture and I wanted an answer. When she said yes, I looked at her tiny 14-year-old-body and I wanted to cry. I asked if she'd been to a doctor and if her parents knew. She said no doctor yet, but she was planning to tell her parents right away. I was worried about her and I told her so. She promised she'd see a doctor as soon as her parents were told. I pulled her close to me and we sat quietly, my arm around my cousin, her head on my shoulder, not speaking. I noticed how tired she looked. A few moments later, I noticed she was asleep. I squeezed her closer and rested my cheek against her hair, wishing there was a way to make my heart stop aching for her.
Two days later, when I arrived home from school, my mother was waiting for me. She said, "Did you really as YC if she was pregnant?" I said yes. "Just like that? You just asked her?" I told my mother it seemed more fair to allow YC to answer the question in person, than it was to talk about it behind her back. I also mentioned that I was worried that the prenancy would harm my cousin and that she seemed very tired. Then I went upstairs to do my homework. Two of my sisters followed me. They said I was either "very brave" to have asked YC, or "very stupid." I ignored them. My questions had nothing to do with bravery or stupidity--I simply wanted to know. Curiosity, in my case, always wins out.
I think of this when I hear people asking me, "How are you today?" I remember a time when my body freaked out a little and started sprouting tumors inside my bladder. Bladders are sensitive little things. They don't like foreign objects in them. The tumors were attached at the neck of the bladder, and grew downward so that when the bladder emptied the tumors got squeezed--OUCH!! Cancer screens came back negative--many times. The tumors were surgically removed, only to be replaced in a couple of weeks by others, composed of different materials. There seemed to be no end, and I was in agony--mentally and physically.
When all this was going on, I remember a need to talk about it to anyone who would listen. I was highly stressed that no one could find an answer as to why the tumors kept recurring, they were discussing bladder removal, and I had become a lab rat at the university hospital in a city two hours from my home. It seemed, however, that no one wanted to talk about it. My family avoided the subject. For the first time in my married life, even Darrin would not talk about it. I learned later that he was too afraid--he thought I was going to die--but at the time, I just felt alone and abandoned.
One day in church, a friend of mine asked, "How are you?" Because of my lack of social prowess, I took the question seriously and told her of my pain, the doctors' uncertainty, my fear that I might not get better...She gave me a distracted smile and said, calmly, "Oh, I'm quite certain you'll be fine." Then she walked away. I'm not sure what I had expected--but it wasn't that. I remember thinking, WOW!! I'm paying thousands of dollars I don't have to doctors who can't cure me, but YOU know I'll be fine. Perhaps I should have you as my doctor, instead!
I learned a valuable lesson that day--the majority of people who ask how you are, really have no wish to know. It's a social gesture, not a real question. And I also learned that the only correct answer is, "I'm fine, thanks." But inside, I yearned to talk about what was hurting. I didn't want to seem like a whiney, unhappy individual, but I was afraid, tired of so many surgeries and experimental drugs that weren't working, and wondering if there would ever be an end...and I really wanted to share that. In the end, I kept it inside, because I was afraid that in the sharing I would lose the people around me, and I didn't want to be alone.
Recently I have acquired friends who actually ask me how I'm doing because they want to know. It's difficult to tell the truth after years of keeping everything inside and saying the "right" answers. And sometimes I have days when I would feel tremendous guilt if I shared my actual feelings. I'm very blessed--I acknowledge that--and I'm not trying to seem ungrateful, but sometimes I have bad days when I feel worthless and sad, and sharing those feelings with people who love me seems, somehow, wrong. And so those sweet friends ask, and I struggle inside myself, the conflict being that I want to be honest, but I also want to protect those I love--I don't want them to know that sometimes I'm overwhelmed by degrading thoughts, sometimes memories make me physically ill, sometimes I'm just really, really sad.
Friend: How are you, today?
Sam: I suck.
Friend: Really? Why?
Sam: There's a hole in my soul. I'm pretty messed up inside. It's hard, sometimes to understand how I can have any worth. I'm sad.
Friend: Wow! Sorry I asked!!
Sam: Yeah, me too.
The good news is, I'm working on not feeling those things. I have hope that someday I'll stop being weighed down by burdens I take on myself. When I can stop trying to change the past...stop feeling consumed by events I cannot change...stop feeling that stupid aching sadness... THEN I hope everyone will ask me, "Hey Samantha, how are you today." I'll answer, "I'm doing so well! I'm fine! Thanks so much for asking!" And it will be the truth.