“How are you?” people ask. The question can mean a multitude of things, depending on the reason for asking... Worst cases... A death in the family or a diagnosis of illness. Or it can just be, as in most cases, an accustomed greeting following ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ to someone we may not have seen in a while.
Generally, we respond with, “Okay, thanks,” or if we surmise that the person asking is someone we believe really wants to know, we may be honest and say, “I’m not feeling so well,” or, “I just got some bad news.” In most cases, I’ve found, we smile and say, “Doing fine,” when we’re really not. We’re in pain, mental or physical, or we are scared of an upcoming medical procedure, or... You name it. ‘Growing older — for sissies it ain’t’... to paraphrase Bette Davis.
Following a greeting, I’ve never heard anyone ask, “What’s going on in your head? Are you worried about anything?” Except, perhaps, for a therapist. And so we tend to believe that our hurts, fears and anxieties are unique to us and would drive others away if they knew. Those beliefs separate us from each other and can lead to feelings of isolation, especially if we don’t have many — or any — close friends to talk with. As we age this happens too often.
I’ve thought about this for a long time. So, newly returned to Jacksonville, and not having many friends my age here with whom to commiserate, I decided to find out how alike we all really are. I’m a member of OLLI, The Osher Life Long Learning Institute, about which I’ve written extensively here. It’s a fabulous organization, and I asked to facilitate a course there last year. It was designed to bring together a small group of people who were willing to be open and honest about their feelings and their problems related to aging. I didn’t know if anyone would sign up, but I had hopes. And they were rewarded.
The perfect sized group manifested and the members were just what I’d hoped they would be... Open, honest... Willing to let themselves be seen and heard. We had some wonderful — and at times difficult — moments together talking about anything and everything related to our lives. There was joy in discovering that we are alike more than dissimilar though we come from different backgrounds and life experiences.
Those conversations created a deep bond of trust and affection. I loved everyone in the class, from the first time they spoke up about their problems and struggles. I think, too, what made it special was that there was a feeling of safety there as well. Everyone knew that if a question were asked and they were not comfortable answering, they just said so. No one had to respond to anything at any time. But once everyone was really comfortable with each other, the conversations flowed and the hour and a half flew by.
Had I known I would heal so quickly from my hip surgery I would have scheduled us for a follow up class. Unfortunately, I have to wait until my next hip surgery is over and done with at the end of April to plan another formal class. Until then, those who are able will meet informally to continue talking about anything and everything — like the friends of many years we have become.
And so to end, I’d just like to say that knowing that we all have our struggles with life, we need to truly care when we ask, “How are you?” If the person we’re asking says, “Fine, thanks,” we can go a little further... Use our intuition... Ask another question. Maybe they really are just fine, and that’s a good thing. But maybe they need a caring hug, a kind word or a helping hand to get through their day. The rewards for going a bit above and beyond are great... For them and for us.
I leave you with this:
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.