From the Editor
Behind “I’m fine”
Have you ever been next to someone who takes “How are you?” to heart?
As a young adult, I felt humiliated when my stepmother committed the social faux pas of doing just that when a retail-store associate asked how she was doing. After Mom listed her aches and pains, described Dad’s recent work injury, and talked about her granddaughter’s earache, I explained to her that the clerk was just being polite and that “fine, thanks” would have sufficed.
In my mind, I had just given the whole of society—at least the people my mother would encounter in the foreseeable future—an immeasurable gift. Not surprisingly, I also think one’s dirty laundry shouldn’t be air-dried, and family squabbles should occur behind closed doors.
This line of thought was triggered by a podcast called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” the premise of which has made me rethink the popular notion of suffering in silence. Online sources affirm that more than 300 million individuals worldwide experience some level of depression. Between 2018 and 2030, the United Nations projects fifty-six million children under age five will die. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than a half million people were homeless on a given night in 2018. All of this is to say there is vast grief, discord, and upheaval in life. Indeed, there are countless reasons to be less than “fine” at any fixed moment. So why do we insist on hiding behind a mask of pretense?
Several months ago, my beloved boxer, Lucy, part of our family since she was a tiny puppy, passed away at the age of fifteen. Named in honor of Lucille Ball, Lucy’s personality matched the personas of the wacky characters Miss Ball played on TV. We were not fine; we were heartbroken at our girl’s passing, which was my eight-year-old bonus son’s first real experience with death. He still struggles today. Yet despite the heaviness of loss that bears down on us in moments like this, people—my family included—continue to put on a happy face and mutter “fine, thanks” when we feel anything but.
When things are rotten, it might be liberating to answer “How are you?” with “Terrible, thanks for asking.” That truth still holds the semblance of politeness, but it answers the question more precisely and opens the door for further unburdening of the mind.
I’ve always cautioned my children to avoid judging others because you never know what they’re going through. Jesus’ advice to “stop judging, that you may not be judged” especially rings true during the upcoming holidays. For many, no love or joy come to them during Advent and Christmas. Personal loss, strained relationships, financial problems, and more are compounded by the sights and sounds of what society promotes as the most wonderful time of the year. Jesus came, in part, to show us how to be lights in our world. Let’s shine for others to better see behind the masks of “I’m fine.”