Today we’re reminded to ask our friends ‘are you okay?’ and mean it. We’re reminded of the importance of a question, and the vulnerability required for an answer. We’re told to ask, and I’ve seen many people ask and just as many answer in the affirmative. They are indeed okay. What if, though, the answer is no? What if the answer is ‘no, I’m not okay’? Where do we go from there?
It seems to me that so often we want an answer that will fit neatly like a puzzle piece, and emotions are anything but a puzzle piece. The muddle of circumstances and vibes that make up our lives are anything but simple and it means that the next steps cannot fit to an across the board response.
There’s one question that helps more than most, though. Before you offer casual comfort in the form of “you’ll be alright, mate. it’ll pass.” or offer a beer or coffee or movie night to take their minds off their woes, perhaps we should pause and ask a simple question – “how can I help?”
We often know ourselves well. We know what helps when we’re low and we know what agitates us. We know what will dig the hole deeper and we know what will help us climb out. Heck, sometimes we just need to sit down in the hole and breathe for a moment before we dare try to scramble out of it.
Ask the question. Ask how you can help, when someone says they’re not okay. Our desire to problem solve is functionally effective but emotionally useless sometimes. There’s this YouTube video that a bunch of guys I know used to explain the problem with how women think – there’s a nail in the woman’s head and the guy keeps trying to help her get it out, but to her, it isn’t about the nail. Whilst the gender stereotyping frustrates me, regardless of gender we need to not immediately assume that we are the knight in shining armour to fix all the problems of our friends.
In a few days it’ll be eight years since a friend of mine was hit by a drunk driver and a day later, died. The day and those that followed are stuck in my mind as some of the best and worst of my life. I called a youth group leader to tell them what had happened, that she had been hit by a drunk driver and she was in hospital in critical condition. It didn’t look good. The youth leader asked if I wanted her to come over to see me, and I told her no, that I didn’t want to burden her even more. I retreated to my room and cried, those sobs that come from a place within you that you don’t know exists until you cry those tears. Half an hour later, she was there. She and her husband sat with me and we cried and prayed together. They didn’t offer to fix anything – they couldn’t. Friends sat in the sadness with me. They didn’t tell me that one day it’d all make sense. They didn’t do anything but be there, because I couldn’t stand to be alone.
All I wanted was someone to sit with me, and to have friends to sit was more than enough. Some days the solution comes in the form of a cup of coffee and time left alone. I’ve got one friend who is similarly inclined to me and we take out boxing gloves and focus pads and spend an hour letting out all our frustrations in a safe way.
I guess all I’m trying to say is that asking ‘are you okay?’ is brilliant, and to have permission to answer honestly is great, but we need to know where to go next – and I think that’s the simple question, ‘how can I help?’ without assuming that we know better than those we love.