A few months ago, I went out to dinner with a friend of mine. This friend had helped me during some tough times at college, and she always had a positive, upbeat attitude. She helped balance out the somewhat morbid and pessimistic outlook I had at that time. Since we hadn’t seen each other in a (relatively) long time, we spent the meal catching up on what was going on in our lives. It occurred to me as we were eating that we had both changed quite a bit since we had last seen each other.
Her voice used to sound so happy, like a bird, and she was able to lift my spirits. Yet on this particular evening, her voice sounded like it was weighed down, and I noticed the spark of life was gone from her eyes. Conversely, my voice sounded lighter and happier, compared to the way it sounded a few years ago. The conversation began to feel like I was treading through mud, and I couldn’t pick her up. I figured she was probably tired from work, and I knew she had some stressful situations going on back home, and yet I regret that I didn’t ask her, “Hey–you sound kind of sad. Is everything okay?”
There’s a chance she would’ve said, “Sure, everything’s fine,” but I still feel like I should have asked that question. I think we often try to give people the highlights of our lives and present a positive image of ourselves, so much so that even when we have face-to-face conversations, we keep up that facade that we use online. It’s easier to hide behind a screen, but you can’t hide in person. You shouldn’t have to, either. I wanted to help my friend the same way that she had been able to help me, and I wonder if maybe I failed by not pausing and asking that tough question.
I say it’s a “tough question” because I think on the whole, most people don’t want to talk about pain. Pain is an inconvenience, sorrow is a nag, and anger is a deterrent. We don’t want people to know when we feel those “bad feelings.” I’m guilty of this as well, because there were–and are–plenty of times when someone has asked me “how are you?” and I would respond with an enthusiastic “good!”, when in reality, I felt pretty crummy. Why do we do this? I know sometimes I do it because I don’t want to hear people’s advice, but then it’s wrong for me to go to bed at night crying because “nobody knows what I’m going through.” If I had the opportunity to share earlier, then it’s on me.
You can be a positive person and still admit that you’re having a bad day–it doesn’t make you any less positive. It makes you more genuine. When you’re willing to be sincere and put yourself out there, you will find that there are people who not only want to help you–they can also empathize with you because they might be going through the same thing. This leads to healing and freedom–when you’re able to share your burdens with other people and uplift one another, and pray for each other. I know not all of you are Christians, but this idea is found in the Bible. No man is an island, and we were made for companionship, not isolation.
Next time I speak with my friend, I will ask her if everything’s okay. But also, I need to learn to stop “good-ing” when people ask me if everything is okay. Both asking and answering can be intimidating, but ultimately, it is liberating.