I’m giving myself fifteen minutes to post this before I get back to writing my last english paper of the semester. So, we all know that wasn’t going to work. Bear with me until I fix all of the typos I imagine I’ll find when I read this tomorrow. And if you read this post before I decide to take it down tomorrow when I’m more awake and realize it’s a bit too honest, convince me to put it back up. This is one I’ll want to have. I know I sound crazy right now. Trust me.
A conversation earlier reminded me of a specific lesson (sermon) from Mr. Mairs that I imagine I heard more than once in my four years of high school, despite the fact that it’s a bit fuzzy right now. I’ve learned a few things this past year. I’ve learned that my memory is pretty awful. I think that’s part of the reason why I’m so insistent on documenting things. I like the idea of being able to remember my experiences, really remember them; how I felt in the moment, what was said, who I was. And not just so that I can write about them for class (oye vey!), but for myself. My memory is fallible, and that’s simply an undeniable reality. So I write and I photograph and I document, not so that I can be obsessed with living in the past, but so that I can remember. Secondly, I’ve learned that Mr. Mairs lessons are simply impossible to retell accurately. It’s not a matter of remembering them well enough, it’s just a Mr. Mairs thing. But this particular day is very poignant. One of the orchestra member’s grandparents had passed away. I think it was his grandmother, but I can’t guarantee that’s correct. I can visualize this moment as if I were watching it as I type this. He was talking to us about really being present for each other during difficult times. He shared an anecdote and explained how sometimes, words aren’t necessary, and it’s the presence of another that someone grieving really needs, not sincere, well-intentioned, but unwarranted advice (Do you guys remember him telling us how the worst thing to tell someone who lost a loved-one is that “God just needed another little angel in heaven with Him”?) And the conversation moved to being receptive to someone’s needs.
I remember him walking to the fifth chair of the 1st violin section and saying, “How are you?”
Then quickly moving on to the next person, then the next, and then the one in front of her, proving the point, I believe, that we’re usually not invested in the other person’s response. It’s a matter of being polite, asking someone how they are, and neither person cares that much about the wellbeing of the other past that standard interaction of Hi, how are you. Fine. How are you. Fine, thanks. His point was that you never know when someone is looking for someone to ask them how they are so that they can actually talk about how they are, what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, good and bad. In this case, it was about being receptive to a friend who might have wanted someone to talk to about losing his grandparent and how he was coping with that loss, but it extends farther than that particular situation.
The situation that sparked this memory today was one that I’ve noticed reoccurring often lately. I’m not sure if I appear receptive when I ask someone how they are, but I try to be. At work, every time I scan someone’s ID to let them in my lab, I always ask the person how they are, and occasionally, someone will say something other than “fine” or “good” or the grammatically correct, “well,” and I will acknowledge whatever the unique response is. I get a lot of stories about failed economics exams, obnoxious spanish professors, uncooperative administrators, car issues, lost papers, and a few too-much-information anecdotes. But I try my best to be invested (which is tough before nine in the morning!).
A handful of times lately, the “How are you?” exchanges have been different though.
“Hey, so-and-so, how are you?”
“I’m good. Blah blah blah. Something nice. Blah blah blah.”
“Good! That’s awesome!”
“How are you, Jennifer?”
“I’m doing alright. Blah blah blah. School. Blah blah blah.”
“Well, how are you doing? Really, how are you, how are things going?”
And it always catches me off guard. I don’t really know what to say, or what the question is? I don’t feel like I appear any particular way that would prompt it. I don’t doubt for a moment that the other person is invested in my response. It’s an interesting question, and I don’t usually say what I want to say in that moment. That things have been really difficult lately, actually, that I feel a little lost, that I’m not where I want to be, and that I want to say that it’s okay but I don’t really know that it’s okay. I think I’m okay, if that’s what they’re asking. That I don’t want them to worry about me. And that I appreciate them caring enough to ask.
That was much more than I wanted to say.
Thanks for reading, friends.
The next time you’re amidst a typically polite “How are you?” conversation, be invested. You might be surprised to know what it means to them, even if they can’t build up the courage to actually answer you.
That was much more than I wanted to say too.