I pondered this question from the gas station attendant on Saturday (yes, our little town still has a full-service gas station, and it's the cheapest gas in town--why wouldn't I go there and have someone pump my gas and wash my windows? It feels so 1950s.).
Anyway, as the attendant was washing my windows, he asked how I was.
And when I'm troubled, as I was on Saturday, I wondered: Do people really want the truth when they ask you that question?
When I was in high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard at the local pool. Mr. Kay, who I am sure has long since passed away so I feel OK using his real name, used to come each day like clockwork to swim. He'd had heart surgry and had a bad elbow, but he was very good about getting his daily exercise in.
Mr. Kay was one of those people who, if you didn't want to hear every detail of what was medically wrong with him on that day, for heaven's sake, don't ask how he is.
"How are you Mr. Kay?"
"Well, my bursitis is acting up. See how swollen it is? (Ewww, yes, I can see it's the size of a grapefruit, thanks) And I wrenched my back and had to see the chiropractor yesterday. And you know I have to have follow up surgery on my heart. I'll show you my scar when I get changed. . ."
It was a running joke amongst the staff--Don't ask Mr. Kay how he is unless you have an hour to spare. But he was a nice man and we always asked him anyway. Besides, it was kind of interesting to hear how this man was holding up.
Anyway, back to present day. So the guy at the gas station had asked a polite question. How was I? I, personally, was fine. But so many others weren't. He had no way of knowing I had just come from a funeral for an 11-month-old baby--the son of a girl I met through Bible study. He passed away very quickly earlier in the week from a Strep A infection. I hope I never have to attend a child's funeral again. It was the most awful experience to see a parent grieving for a child. When Finn was sick, we were at the lowest point in our lives, save one. And on Saturday, I saw that save one up close and personal. It was a terrible thing to behold. And I will never forget it.
When I returned home from the funeral, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that the husband of another friend of ours had died suddenly. He was only 48. They had an 8-year-old son. I couldn't get over the shock. I still can't believe it.
It's hard to imagine going on in these situations. And yet you do. That was the question people asked the most when Finn was sick: How do you do it? The answer: Because there isn't another option.
Even after the funeral and the shocking news about my friend's husband, life went on for me that day. I went to the post office and the grocery store. I was doing normal things when other people's lives were altered forever.
I bought gas.
And so when the attendant asked, "And how are you today?" I smiled and said, "I'm fine, thank you."
And I was fine. But I didn't feel fine. If that makes any sense at all.