Three fundamentals attend us. The physical, the mental, the spiritual. Somewhere in the mix is the emotional. One feels sore, or adrift, or compacted. A blend of all? Conversely, one may feel fit, or alert, or alight. Physically, mentally, or spiritually, as the poet e.e.cummimgs would have it, "feeling is all." So it is that the question, "How are you?" is given in the moment, answered in the moment, or when shall one make the cut off? Over the last two weeks? Three months? Grief is given a span of mourning. Headaches are expected to last only for awhile. The flu takes one by surprise and can lay us up for several days. A car accident? A muscle pull? The break-up of teenagers, or of adults. The new dog. The new child. The new house. The excitement over the new.... Well, one gets the picture. So when the question arises, 'How are you?', it reaches one where one is at, right now.
In the old days (which most certainly was before electronic emails and texting, and when the phone call, especially long-distance, was a rare and privileged thing)... In the old days one wrote a letter and posted it, and waited and waited for the return. “How are you?” you'd ask. 'Well,' the answer would eventually come (at least almost a month later), 'well, we are doing fine. Only, I've got this headache, and when Barney said he'd put his foot down if I don't take an aspirin I told him to stop acting like a flamingo!' … So you'd write back: “Ha! Is your headache gone now?”
Yes, Barney's blarney was a long time ago. So too the results of the operation, or the job lay-off, or even the new bike that little Tike was so excited about. So, just how much should one reveal? Especially to persons not 'in the inner circle', persons who cannot relate, or persons not familiar with the passage of one’s life in general. What does one say? What does one want from relating to the other? Sympathy? Pity? An ongoing drain on their care? Does it really signify that I shall have dental surgery (oh my!) next Monday? Now I shall have to explain how extensive, the reasons why, and the wherefore and what for and... Ugh. I'm fine. I'm fine thanks. I'm fine.
Really fine (or bad) moments are best understood alone. One cannot possibly always have a cheering squad; an egging-on cadre of friends; a 'you can do it!' section of onlookers who give you the encouragement and persuasion that helps, yes, but really truly is not always there. It is in the dark small hours of persistent pain when no one else knows about it that one is most taxed. Of what use is chronic pain to anyone else then? No one gets to ‘feel good’ for their own feelings of sympathy. Or it is when the relatively few steps from the car to pick up milk in the grocery store, desperately hoping that nobody will bump into you, or waylay you, or expect you to stand (unsupported) in a queue while waiting to pay, that others do not appear understanding of the very tenuous thread of persistence that you're clutching to. They appear to do these things normally, casually, as though being free from a wheelchair is as life is meant to be. Pain that is not seen is entirely overlooked. Inner pain. Is that why we really wear black while we are in mourning, that others might give us respect for our heart-sore, be altogether more cautious and courteous and considerate? People treat those with canes and crutches and walkers differently. Doors are opened for them. Is that why we (generally) readily speak of our 'hundred aches and pains that the flesh is heir to'? We get more noticed? Yet the real step by step accretions of inner reserve and physical endurance, akin to one’s training for a marathon, are for the long distance runner, alone. One’s best pace is realized when one is, indeed, all alone.
All around us are people perpetually in and out of pain and disasters and misfortunes. All around us are people who have more, appear more happy, more confident, more engaged. It is the comparisons by which we most determine our degrees of discomfort. (When I was a little boy, as I recall, it took me several times to realize others do not feel as I feel, when I felt it. And as I grew up, I came to see that almost everything has a beginning, middle, and end. This too shall pass.) So then, you ask as I continue my own journey along the length of life's physical fire-walk, how am I doing? Well, I'm fine. I'm fine. Really, truly, thanks. I'm fine. Accreting. You?