I think I am going to call what I am doing this month CoAnQuMo (Courtney Answers Questions Month!)
Here comes question #2 for my exploration:
What do you think about the culturally appropriate, yet perhaps dishonest response of “fine” we give to people when they ask us how we are doing?
Wow. That’s a juicy question and one I’ve been musing about as of late. I understand the way “fine” can be a polite way of engagement-nonengagement, a way to get through a moment, a transaction, a conversation — and on to something else. It’s acceptable. People don’t ask you any follow-up questions when you use that conversation-stopping four-letter “F” word.
Sometimes “fine” is true, though. Sometimes we just feel, well, truly “fine.” But sometimes we feel elated or dismayed or grief-stricken or sick or giddy or tired or foggy or disoriented. I wonder what our interactions would be like if we used a “more true” word instead. What do you think?
My big heart-felt gut response to this question is that, overall, I wish we could all feel more comfortable being honest in our response to the question, “How are you doing?”
This question brings me back to June of 2009, the first Father’s Day after my dad’s death. I went to the neighborhood QFC to buy groceries. I was feeling brittle, on the edge of tears all day. The QFC had “Happy Father’s Day” balloons towering above the check-out stands and magazine covers showed pictures of fathers playing with and hugging their children. The loss I was feeling was thick, palpable, like I was moving through mud in that grocery store.
It was my turn. I allowed the checker, a young brown-haired caucasian man in his twenties, to unfurl my basket and place the items into a bag.
Then came the dreaded question: “How is your day going?” What usually had been a benign question, a symbol of human beings getting along in a sort of surface, yet polite existence became a lead weight. On this occasion I didn’t have time to think, to debate whether I’d have said “fine” or how I was truly feeling, because tears gathered in my eyes and my throat constricted.
And what emerged was my truth: “Actually, I am having a very hard day. It’s Father’s Day and my father is gone.”
Mr. 20-year-old checker looked up and made eye contact. It surprised me. What was he to say? I broke the polite and un-intrusive rule of dialog (especially with strangers) with my humanness, especially a part of our humanity that makes us all a little uncomfortable: the topics of death and loss.
To my surprise the checker said, “Gosh, I am so sorry. This day must be so hard.”
“Yes,” I said, “thank you.” I swiped my debit card through the machine and wiped my drippy nose.
He placed the last item in my bag, gave me my receipt and instead of saying “have a nice day” (another citizen-to-citizen pleasantry), he just breathed — the kind that comes from the belly — and said, “take care.”
“I’ll try,” I said and walked home, tears streaming into my paper grocery bag. It was a catharsis I needed. I needed to be seen. I needed to be honest. I needed to be acknowledged. And I was. In the grocery store. On Father’s Day.
And who knows what gift I gave him that day with my honesty? Perhaps our interaction only became a story he told a friend that evening, but maybe, just maybe something else happened between us that we don’t even have a name for. Perhaps when we share a tiny moment of true emotion with a stranger we plant little seeds of empathy that can grow and grow and grow.
with honesty and grace,
For more information about my “30 Questions in 30 Days” Project, click here.