How are you?
How are you?
Pretty common greeting, I know. But how are you really? It’s a question worth asking that – posed by the right person at the right time – can do wonders.
Today, I convinced myself I would be okay. I went through my usual routine. Woke up to my back-up alarm, showered and brushed my teeth with some worship music to set the mood, then fixed some breakfast as I reviewed what I had to accomplish for the day. Before I could get started, I went through my usual check-points. School email, work email, personal email. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. And that’s when it hit.
It is a friend’s birthday. That friend is dead. She should be eighteen today.
I stared at the reminder for a few seconds, then nodded to myself that it was okay. I had cried when I first found out about her death, and sobbed when I realized I hadn’t spoken to her for a year and half before it happened. But that was a year ago. I’d prayed about it. I’d healed from it. Or so I thought.
The ugly truth is that I found out she died almost a year after she had passed, through a news article. The ugly truth is that when I’d moved to Ottawa for school, we chatted about meeting sometime in the city, but I was too busy to follow through. The ugliest part? There is a suspicion that the “accident” may have been her taking her own life.
I sat on my futon trying to muffle my crying until my roommate came to my room, asking if I was okay. The ugly truth is that I am not.
Now, I am not vain enough to believe that if I had reached out to my friend, she would not have taken her life. Or being neglected in her house would have been okay because of my presence in her life. But I do wonder how she would be affected if I had asked her how she was doing.
A ‘how are you’ is a world of opportunity.
When my roommate asked me why I was crying, I felt seen. I felt cared for. And though the question did not stop my tears, it did remind me that I had someone in my corner. And maybe that’s all we need sometimes.
To be seen, I think, is among an individual’s deepest desires.
And, despite my rational voice trying to get a word in against my guilty one, I do think I failed my friend. I didn’t see her.
My friend and I had an interesting relationship. She was my camper when I spent high school summers counselling at a sleepaway camp. I had known her for two years, so I knew of her family problems and when she was relocated. I witnessed how her home life affected her interactions with campers the one time of year she was allowed to get away from it all.
Whether she was a camper in my cabin for a session or not, she and I had a relationship. She was an early riser, and I didn’t mind early riser duty (too much) because I too, am a morning person. So, we chatted on the trampoline, even though it was damp and littered by mosquito carcasses. We would sit, occasionally bounce, and I would ask how she was. Sometimes, it was the generic ‘good’, while other times, she explained her frustration with her inability to control her anger. Sometimes she didn’t say much at all. Sometimes she told me about the other campers she hated and why. I let her let it out.
She was an interesting young woman to counsel because though she was an instigator at times, she was funny, and she allowed herself to be vulnerable with me. So, while other counsellors did not agree with the choice of words she yelled at other kids, I understood. I mean, I also tried to discipline her, but she didn’t always listen. I admit, I got frustrated too. But I like I said, I understood.
I saw her then, but I will never see her again.
It’s hard to grapple with that. I have been in childcare for a long time. I regularly babysit kids, I’ve led Sunday school for years, and now, I’m a youth leader. I considered this friend one of my kids. It happens with a number of them I have in my life. They are not so much favourites, as they are special. The ones that see you as more than someone who is told to look after them, and the ones you see as your own sibling or child. The ones that run into your arms, and the ones that always make you break into a smile. The ones who stay chatting or playing with you while their parents are impatiently waiting by the door, and the ones whose names you have scribbled in your notes and say a quick prayer for because you want them to have the best day, wherever they are.
Okay, maybe I do have some favourites.
But this friend, this camper, this person… She will never feel seen again. My heart breaks because I wonder if she felt seen in her last moments. And I will always wonder.
I texted a friend asking her to pray for my friend’s family today as they celebrate her birthday. If this is how I am feeling, I can only imagine what her family is going through. She said she would, but she also asked what she could do for me. She turned it back to how I was holding up, and I felt seen again.
So, how are you? It’s a question worth asking yourself. Once you have that answer, address it how you see fit. Then, go ask a friend. If everything is ‘great, how are you’, probe a little deeper. If they start talking about school, relationship, or work stress, listen closely – just in case there’s something under the surface worth picking at.
I wish I had.
So, today, I am not okay. But, I will be.
I am sorry. I am grieving. I will probably have a few more cries. For my friend, for the other kids at camp I won’t reach because they got lost in the foster system, for the people I don’t know, but need to be seen regardless.
But eventually, I will look up, picture my friend’s smile, and understand that when we were together, she knew I loved her. I know my love was not the end-all, be-all for her, but it was what I could give. All I can do is offer that to who is around. There are people to be seen. There are people who need a ‘how are you?’.
Go ahead. Ask.