How are you? A very simple question. One which is asked all the time; but one which is so difficult to answer at times. One which was almost unbearable to hear, and so unbelievably hard to answer in the days and weeks after losing Edward. It’s a question I hadn’t analysed too much until I was in a position where I felt unable to answer.
How are you? It’s said so often, by so many. Just in passing … in the street, in the shops.
It’s the question you want people to ask; whilst not wanting them to ask at the same time.
Who’s asking? Why are they asking? Do they really want to know how I am?
Is it a “Hello, how are you?” Just a pleasant way of acknowledging someone; just a longer and nicer hello. Or is it “How are you?” where people haven’t seen you for ages and are after a little catch up, a few snippets of what you’ve been up to. Is it a How are you? out of curiosity ... its a bit of news, or gossip to pass on. Or is it a “How are you?” where people understand that you’ve been through the mill a bit and feel that they ought to ask. Or is it a genuine “How are you?” when someone wants to listen, wants to hear, wants to understand. There are barely a few who try for the latter; there’s even less who manage it.
It’s a really hard question to answer; it’s hard to articulate sometimes; and then it’s hard to tailor that answer to the person who’s asking; and it’s hard to take all what you need to say …. probably hours’ worth of words and emotion and encapsulate it all into a sentence, because that’s really all most want to hear.
You want to answer honestly, but there are those who don’t really want the honest answer, maybe because they really don’t want to go there, it might make them uncomfortable, maybe because actually they’re in a rush and haven’t got the time for an answer. And there are times when I’ve been really not in a good place … and I’ve answered honestly ….. and the person asking has ignored that, and even walked away. And I’ve cried. And I’ve sat alone. And fortunately I have a couple of friends, and a husband who understand; they don’t walk away.
So what normally happens when you answer someone, is that you try and condense all your feelings into a quick sentence reply. Which isn’t possible. So you say “I’m fine”. You say “I’m good, thanks”. You throw it back “I’m good thanks, how are you?” It’s said very quickly in passing, without meaning, without care, without much attention. It’s polite, it’s the right thing to do, you’ve ticked the box.
The How are you? is then quickly followed by a quick “How’s Justin?” … and my mind whizzes with all of the above again. And I try and encapsulate all my thoughts about how Justin is into that one sentence, to reply to someone who’s not really that interested; who doesn’t care that much; who is probably saying it out of it being the right thing to say. Because if they really wanted to know, they’d ask him. But they don’t, because it would take effort ... they'd have to make a point of seeking him out to ask him as he's not out and about as much as me. People don’t generally ask men how they are .... not really; that really frightens them. They might have to deal with emotions which are not generally expressed. This is uncharted territory... and so they’re forgotten. It’s their own fault too, because they’re not naturally as open. It’s my fault too, as I’m probably far too open. So people will gravitate to me to ask.
And then we have “How are the boys?” And I spend time thinking and answering the questions of people who aren’t even really bothered one way or another.
How are we all as a family? Well those who really care know that. Because those who really care are the ones who listen, and hear, and pop round, and make time for us, and message late at night. The ones who think of us, and talk to us, and listen to us without actually asking that question. The ones who can see what’s going on, what we’re dealing with, and message us; not always expecting an answer back, or a reply to their message; because they understand that there are times I can’t answer; there’s too much to say, too much pain, too much emotion, too much to put into words. Knowing that someone has thought, messaged, asked, is really really special. The people who don’t need to ask, because they already know. I have a few people in my life who care … who really care ….. and there aren’t that many.
Most people are just curious.
So .... should you stop asking someone “How are you?” No, I don’t think you should stop, but I hope that maybe now you might pause to think about how hard that question might be to answer by someone.