April 2018

Thursday, April 29, 2010

NL #10: “I’m fine thanks. You?”

NL #10: It was a few months into recovery from surgery to remove a tumor from the middle of my brain that I finally realized what I had long known: When someone asks, “How are you?”, in general, that person doesn’t want to know. The correct response is, “Fine. How are you?” I had known this in casual social interactions for years, but now I learned that acquaintances as well as the people who most wanted or needed to know—my doctors, my family, my close friends, my partner—really wanted to be encouraged, to hear, “I’m fine.”

At first, rudely, I would give those who asked an honest answer: “My head hurts.” Or “I have no energy.” Or “I feel frustrated.” My Grandmother E. did this in her later years. "How are you, Grandmother?" I would ask. "I can't walk," she would respond, as if my question were ridiculous. When I left and said goodbye, for thirty years she would say, "The next time you come, I'll be dead." She stopped saying this around the age of 93.

I thought having had a brain tumor was kind of interesting, a bit exotic, and surely others would want an original answer. Not just, "I'm fine." I was not only wrong, but socially inappropriate.

I have learned that I am to be encouraging. I can step out of the “I’m fine” dialogue with variations, but the essence should be that I am, in fact, fine—or going to be. When people ask now, I say, “Better than I was” Or “My energy is really improving” Or “At least I don’t have that knocking sound in my ears all the time anymore.” Or “I’m so glad that you are here.” All of these are true and more socially appropriate.

I’m glad you are here. This may be what we’re both really saying anyway. The exchange isn’t about information, I’m learning. It’s about confirming a connection. Kind of like, “Are you there?” on a cell phone. And to confirm the connection, I am learning to stay on cue. “I’m fine. I’m glad you are here.” And that’s the truth.

Thanks for being here. Mary

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