“I just wanted to check with you and see how you’re doing.”
Sometimes it is a text. Sometimes it is an email. Occasionally it is a phone call. Sometimes I’m on the receiving end, other times I’m sending. Each message is a tiny connection between people and no matter what prompted the sending, it is a gift to be honored. Someone thought of me, or I thought of someone.
“How are you doing?”
“We’re good, found flour at the store this week, and you?”
“We’re good too.”
And the conversation ends there. Most of the time that is all it needs to be. Yet when I receive an inquiry, it forces me to pause and think about how I am doing. I have to see my situation and evaluate my feelings about it. This is good for me as I tend to set myself aside to do the necessary things. If I continually set myself aside without pausing to process my feelings, I’m setting myself up for a massive crash later. It is also not great because self examination interrupts whatever life-flow I may have achieved to put me back into a place where I’m thinking about where I’m at and what I might need in the future. Self examination wakes up any anxiety that I’ve managed to put to sleep.
When I was going through radiation therapy (twenty-five years ago, for a tumor that was non-cancerous but aggressive) I remember standing in the hallways at church. I don’t even remember who I spoke to, probably because it wasn’t a single conversation. I was standing there faced with a kind person who loved me and wanted to know how I was doing. I had two options in answering. I could give the quick answer to make the conversation over, or I could open up my pit of emotions and invite them to swim in it with me. I could keep this beloved person at arms length or I could draw them close and possibly overwhelm them with my depression. I stopped going to church for several months because that choice got too hard to make.
I think about that now with all the quick pandemic check ins. With each person checking in on me, I have an echo of that same choice. Do I tell them how I’m okay, or do I tell them what feels hard? I might be tempted to not check in, to leave people alone so I don’t force this choice on them, except the check-ins are are critically important because when someone hits a breaking point, the point where they desperately need to not be alone in their feelings, then someone needs to be there. The key is that the person who is asking needs to be ready to sit with whatever feelings their inquiry opens up. We need to be willing to mourn with those who mourn as never before. Because we are all mourning right now. Every one of us has already lost something. Everyone has something they’re afraid they may yet lose. Sometimes the person at the other end of our inquiry needs to affirm that they’re okay. Other times they need to be given permission to cry.
Most often I answer that I’m okay, because it is true. I have a house. I have the means to pay my bills for the next few months. I have enough food to last me at least a couple of weeks. I have people in my house that I can hug. I have cats to amuse and annoy me. I have friends who check on us. I have a large network of loved ones both local and distant who will jump to aid should I end up in need. I have so much to be grateful for.
It is also true that I’m not okay. My business has already shut down some pieces and we’ll likely have to shutdown more. I’m not certain if the supply chains I need to keep running my business will hold. I have friends who are sick. I watch the massive social shifts around me and I don’t know what that will do to my long term ability to pay my bills. I don’t know how my adult children will build futures they want. I’ve no idea when I’ll get to hug loved ones who don’t live in my house. I don’t know who will get sick, who will recover, and who won’t.
In comparing the last two paragraphs I can clearly see that the “Okay” paragraph is all centered in now. The “not okay” paragraph is all about the future. Which reminds me that happiness is in the present. Regret/grief is focused in the past. Anxiety is focused on the future. Which reminds me of the advice given by Lucille Ellison age 102:
I’ve been through so many things. To cope with this virus, and all that’s going on, I would tell people to not get stressed about planning far ahead. You can’t do it.
And perhaps that is also the answer to all those check ins, why they’re important and how to handle them. “How are you today” while acknowledging that today is fleeting and tomorrow might be different. Accepting today for what it is, even if it is full of crying. Answering the needs of today with the resources that are available today. And if we really need to think about the future, think in weeks, not months. Trying to solve problems that are months away is wasted effort because everything will shift again before we get there. In the meantime, we check in on each other and try to help everyone be okay with what we have today.