How Are You?
I’m sitting at a black steel picnic table outside work, eating a yoghurt, squinting into my screen at a cancer blog. Someone wanders by and asks “how are you?” And I lie, “OK, just enjoying the sun.”
The next person is more tuned in. She says, “how are you?” There’s a way people emphasize the “are” that means they think they really want to get beneath the skin. But still, it’s not something to hit people with when they’re just going out for a cigarette break. “I’m hanging in there.”
It becomes the stock response. “Hanging in.” Hints at more, without delivering more. Appeals to my internal rock climber. For me, it includes an image of a man dangling by his fingernails off the side of a chasm, glancing repeatedly down and then up as little pebbles flake off and drop into nothingness. I suspect that others don’t see this same image.
I can also respond as she does. My wife. No, not with “I’m dying, how are you?” which she used regularly and to great effect, but with “fabulous, baruch hashem” -- “fabulous, blessed be the name of god.” To most people, it’s gibberish. Whatever they want to hear. To a few Jews it says either that everything is so shit you don’t want to go into it, or that you have so much faith in the almighty that everything is OK. She meant the former.
The question comes dozens of times every day. And the lie right after it.
After her death, this tiny inquisition continues. Now the favored line is “how are you doing,” with the emphasis on “doing.”
“Hanging in there.”
Even my beloved Rabbi enters the game. “How are you?” he asks. “Shit,” I respond. “Why?” (duh!) “My wife just died.” I almost expect him to say “yeah, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln” (One of my wife’s favorite jokes.)
So lately I’m trying to be clearer in my response. For my own sake. Because it is all about me.
I want to know how I’m doing, and if I tell people what I’m doing, maybe they can answer the how for me.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m going snowshoeing in Yosemite.
I’m going to take a lot of time for myself.
I’m going to take a writing course on-line.
I’m going to a Ventura to build a surfboard.
...out to dinner.
...up to my room to read and pet the cat.
...to try working for 10 hours per week.
...to keep my calendar clear.
...to try to cry more.”
Yet they never respond and tell me how they think I’m doing, because there is no answer.
And there are advanced questions.
“What are your plans?” “To follow my nose.”
“When are you going back to work?” “If I ever feel like it.”
“How’s your son doing?” “He’s a 19-year-old boy.”
But someone has the discipline not to ask. When it’s too quiet, my best friend texts
Two words that convey
“I love you,
I’m here for you,
and what do you want to say?”
I’m glad you love me
I’m glad you’re here for me
and here’s how I’m feeling today.
Thanks for not asking.