She came up to me while I was in line at the bakery. I hadn’t seen her for years. “Hi Al!” she said. “Is life treating you great?” The way she asked it, there was only one acceptable answer.
I wish you could have seen the contortions my mind was going through in the several seconds between her question and my answer. I knew there were a couple of options for my response.
I could lie.
“Yes, life’s treating me amazingly! And you?” And she’d say, “Yes, life’s great!” Then we’d move on, get a cinnamon roll and go about our day.
Or, I could tell the truth. “Actually, life’s treating me crappy. One of my cars is leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez, and the other one is making a terrible noise. My dog found the mouse poison and liked the taste of it, which meant an emergency trip to the vet. Chipmunks chewed through the wire that powers our landscape lighting.
My gas grill died. Some crook stole my identity, racking up $30,000 worth of bills on credit cards they opened in my name. And last week, I hurt my shoulder and my knee at the gym.
So to answer your question, “No, life is NOT treating me great. How are you?”
I realized neither answer was a good representation of my story.
And I couldn’t do the first response any more.
Life wasn’t treating me “great” and to say “fine” was neither truthful nor genuine.
I’ll admit, the second potential response was a little overboard, and frankly a bit rude. While technically accurate, my energy was to expose her shallow question in light of my present experience of life. Yes, I can be tacky.
Here’s what I said instead, “Good to see you! Ya know, I’m finding these days that life doesn’t particularly treat me great. But I’m actually doing OK.”
She looked at me like my dog Hobbs looks at me when I talk with him. He cocks his head with an expression that says, “I know you’re saying something I should understand, but I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
We exchanged pleasantries and moved on.
Telling the truth or telling a lie. I’m practicing telling the truth these days.
When someone says, “How are you?” (a daily occurrence usually offered with sincere kindness), I have one of two responses. I either say, “In many areas I’m doing quite well.” Or I respond with a question, “In what area?” (i.e. what do they want to know about?)
Usually those responses evoke a chuckle, a pause, and then a conversation about the story I’m living at the moment.
Inevitably the conversation turns to their story.
And then we connect.
In the late 1800’s, Scottish pastor and author John Watson wrote: “Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”
What if we were to live with that understanding about one another? Every day, we have the opportunity to connect about the stories we are going through. Even if just for a few moments. A chance to say “I know you are fighting a great battle, and so am I.” To say, “I’m a fellow sojourner. I’m with you.”
A chance to commune with compassion.
Every interaction we have is a holy one.
And if we knew the real story of the person in line at the grocery store or the friend we pass on the street, we’d speak differently to one another.
So the next time someone greets you with, “How are you?” – make it real. That person needs to hear a true story, and deep down, they long to tell you their own.