How are you?

“How are you?”  Three simple words…one very loaded question.  I’m quite sure I’ve been asked this question a few thousand times over the course of my life and I’m certain I’ve asked it back just as frequently; however, if most of us are honest, how often do we really take the time to stop and listen for the answer.  Rushing through the halls at work, passing a stranger at the local coffee joint, most of us are so engrossed in our own lives that if we are honest, we don’t really take the time to to find out how others are doing.  We’re so focused on getting to where we need to go or getting that report in on time that we don’t stop for the 5 minutes needed to truly listen to a hurting stranger or console a struggling co-worker.  On the other hand, when asked the question, how often do we hide the answer from those around us in order to protect their reality?  How often do I say I’m fine when the truth is, it was all I could do to get out of bed that day?  It seems even as children we quickly learn that there is a socially acceptable time and place to truly reveal the answer.  We also learn, often through trial and error, the individuals we can trust with the actual information. 

When a child falls down and wants sympathy for the miniscule scrape left on an elbow, he or she will most often run to the adult figure who will provide the greatest source of love and affection.  If  mom is the one who dishes out the best kisses that make it better, hands down, that child will seek out mom first every time.  But slowly, as we get older, the message that crying for every tiny bump and bruise just isn’t okay.  Somewhere along the road, we start to realize that withholding personal thoughts and feelings is the best way to survive and so we gradually begin to close off that part inside that is screaming to be heard.  In the social work and therapy fields, we’re taught not to get “too involved” in the situation because it’s unhealthy for the other party to truly see how we’re affected by their pain.  We’re encouraged to build this invisible line in the sand that keeps us safely on one side while our client remains dying for a human touch on the other.  We learn to distance ourselves from true emotion that will cause an unprofessional reaction in a trying situation.  Don’t misunderstand me…all of these guidelines are there for a reason, but as I have spent the last 9 years working in the social services field, I’ve learned to shut off the part of me that can get hurt if revealed too easily.

Which brings me to last night…a new friend from work invited me to join her for dinner.  We met less than 2 months ago, but already, there is a connection that feels as if our friendship will last a lifetime.  She asked me how everything was going and I rambled off a few sentences about waiting for the appointment on Wednesday with the Oncologist.  Being the insightful social worker that she is, she asked me again, “Yeah, but how are YOU really doing?”  And then I told her…and she listened…and I talked some more…and still she listened…and then she humbled me…In trying to minimize my answer to others who are asking, I’m not giving them the opportunity to really know how things are going.  In trying to put on a brave face and have a positive attitude, I’m not allowing the reality of the situation to be known by others…and while that’s okay, and I can choose to do that, who am I really protecting? 

 Sometimes the honest truth can bring the greatest hope to others because it provides them with the message that it is okay to feel, it’s okay to hurt and be angry and laugh from the chaos; it’s okay to feel sad and lonely and ask why; it’s okay to wonder what’s next and if there’s going to be pain? and how long will I be in recovery? and will I have to endure chemo? and will I lose my hair? and how will it be to have to learn to speak all over again? and what will people think when they see that part of my tongue is missing? and will others always look at me with that sad sympathy in their eyes? and how in the world am I going to be a social worker or therapist when I can’t speak?…and…and…and…

So there it is…how I am today.  I woke up at 4:39 a.m. drenched in sweat (apparently one of the symptoms of cancer), I’m tired, I’m anxious for tomorrow, I’m scared and despite all the people who have told me that I’m strong and I’ll fight this, I feel very weak and vulnerable. 

So what is the point of all of this?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  The greatest gift that we can offer others is time and a genuine interest in what is going on in their lives.  We can ask how they are doing and we can stop long enough to find out the answer.  And if the response is something more than we know how to handle, we can tell them we are sorry and that we care, but most importantly we can show them that we are present no matter what.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anissa
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 14:37:13

    hey there friend! Thanks. I needed to hear that today. I’m so prone to faking it….cause I’m the happy kid…but sometime things are hard, and I needed to hear that I’m not really helping anyone by “protecting myself”. praying for you. Running the race alongside you….even from Norman, OK.

    Reply

  2. Heather Morton
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 15:44:34

    Wow!! That’s all I have to say….
    And oh yeah, and I love you my friend!! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Alice Roberts
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:04:39

    Thank you for sharing your true heart, Kelli-girl. You are right-on in everything you shared. We’re all scared. And we all have questions. BUT ~ we’re also trusting our Lord with you…and for you! “WHEN I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee!” Ps. 56:3 I love you.

    Reply

  4. whittakerwoman
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 19:36:28

    I remember a time when I was no ok and people would not know what to do when I would say… Not good. So i finally came up with the phrase… “i’m hanging in there” It allowed me to be honest and it pacified those who asked. If there was someone who wanted to know more they would ask. Much love my friend. H

    Reply

  5. Gina McKemie-Lopez
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 00:53:24

    Kelli- what a brave and eloquent statement. I agree, even those of us trained to listen often have to be reminded to slow down and really look at someone. I am pulling for you and know you will come out of this trial just as wonderful and full of life as always. I miss your wit and spark and wish you the strength you need to get through this. I wiill be keeping up with your blog. Cindy sends her best.

    Reply

  6. cyndi hake-castro
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 05:03:40

    I have never met you…..but I thank you for sharing what is truth to you…..right now……in the middle of chaos……fear……uncertainty. Thank you for the reminder to probe more when others give me an answer I know is “not the whole truth”. I will be praying for you tomorrow….and in the days to come:)

    Reply

  7. Desalene
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 23:37:44

    Thanks for sharing, you will be kept in prayer. It is amazing how each person “handles” the different situations life throws at them, I am impressed by your technique.

    Reply

  8. Trish Whitman
    Feb 12, 2010 @ 05:45:09

    Hi Kelli,

    I want you to know I am lifting you up in prayer girl.

    Trish

    Reply

  9. Kari
    Feb 12, 2010 @ 20:22:15

    Wow. I don’t know what to write in response to what I just read. You are so eloquent. I guess I just want you to know that in this very scary and uncertain time, I am praying for you.

    Reply

  10. Hilary
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 16:31:03

    Hello Kelli,

    Just want you to know that I am praying for you….

    Reply

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