How many times a day do we meet a friend or acquaintance, trade polite greetings and ask, “How are you?” The response is almost always, “I’m fine.” No more is said, no more is asked. We exchange pleasantries and go about our busy days. I can’t help but ask, are we all really fine? If we are not fine, do we really want to lay out our list of problems when we are asked or take the time to listen to the honest response of others? An important reality of life is that everyone is not fine -- just like me. Everyone has problems, everyone struggles. Yet, so often we are unable or unwilling to share our struggles. We put up walls, not letting others in, keeping a "safe" distance so as not to appear weak or vulnerable. We use the excuse that we don't want to burden people with our troubles. We hold back, fearing they will judge us. Instead of sharing our real fears, worries and challenges, we opt to put on a happy face, a strong front, and tell ourselves and those around us that everything is “fine.” But living in a sea of “fine” can leave us feeling lonely and isolated.
I am not proposing that we disclose a litany of woes every time someone asks us how we are doing. I am suggesting that it is a true gift to ourselves and to the people in our lives to allow them in. Asking for help, leaning on friends in times of need, and sharing our true selves, with all of our imperfections, takes great strength and courage. It is only by opening ourselves up to those around us that we can truly know each other, and feel comforted by the fact that we are not alone.
I am grateful for the people in my life with whom I can share my joys and my struggles, and who trust me to listen to theirs. Together, we have faced the death of loved ones, the rewards and challenges of parenting, the pain of family conflict, the heart-wrenching battles with disease and illness, and so much more. We allow ourselves to be deeply seen and known. In doing so, we strengthen our connection built on respect, trust, kindness and love. It is comforting to know that we can sit together and simply be ourselves, knowing there is no judgment, only open hearts and open minds. That is the true foundation of friendship. So, thank you to those people in my life who let me know that everything is not always fine and thank you for listening.