No, seriously. How are you?
How carelessly these three, heavy words are thrown around, and how rarely people truly answer them. Fine. Good. Little candies thrown to appease the questioner, who often doesn’t care in the first place. Most people ask it out of social decorum. How are you? My aunt is dying. But you don’t want to know that. My dog is sick. My dreams are crumbling. But you don’t want to know any of that. Good. I’m good, thanks. Smile wide. I am asking this question from the bottom of my heart: How are you? How are you, really? Of course, you can’t answer back. At least, not right away. I’m just alone, in my room (well, my friend’s room, but let us not be derailed by particulars), typing my thoughts. But I can wonder. I can reach out a few fingers of empathy and lift your chin and look into your eyes, and wonder. Chances are, you’re not happy. Happiness is not a constant. It is a variable. It comes in short bursts, like fireworks. Like memories. Like time.
Chances are, you are suffering, in some way or another, big or small. Maybe something really bad is happening in your life, and it’s like the world is falling right on top of your head. Something truly, actually bad, like an illness. A death. A black, empty agony. My words aren’t enough to comfort you, then, but I can imagine what it is like. Sometimes, I sit in my room and imagine someone I love dying. I don’t know why I do it; it’s just something that my mind runs away with, and I end up curled up in my bed, sobbing my eyes out over a hypothetical situation. The only antidote I have found for such suffering is to remind yourself of the transience of existence. All this will pass – the pain, you, life, humanity – all of it will pass. It is short. The problem is we get attached to things in that short time. I am sorry. I do not know if that helps.
Maybe you’re just dissatisfied, you know? Like there’s a little worm wriggling in the apple-core of your soul. Just, niggling at you. Maybe you hate your job. Maybe life seems dull and meaningless. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with money worries and just wish you could spit out coins, fly away to a land where money isn’t needed, win the lottery. Maybe you’re unhappy with your abilities, your achievements. Maybe you feel useless, a failure, washed-up. Hold that thought.
Life is suffering. They are one and the same. Most of us, as children, did not realise this. We could still fool ourselves with safety and security and perfection, because, if we were lucky, our mummies and daddies held up the moon and the stars. Did you ever have these moments of pure, unalloyed joy as a child, swinging through the air on a swing at a park, tucking into a good book at bed time, eating a delicious dinner? A tiny capture of perfection, in which your heart soared and sang hosannas and everything seemed deliciously right and safe? And the funny thing is, even the moments of suffering as children were felt less keenly. As children, we could pick ourselves up much more easily, comfort ourselves with trinkets and kisses and imaginary worlds. That’s really funny, how we get more sensitive to pain as we grow older and more knowledgeable about the cold reality of the world. Children are brave because they don’t know the full story. Grown-ups are terrified because they do, and they know it doesn’t have a happy ending.
But, yes. You are probably not okay. You are probably unhappy about a lot of things. I can understand that, because I’m a human being, and if there’s one thing we all share, it’s pain. And I think the only thing you can do in this situation is to get comfortable with misery and push on. Life will never be without misery, but you can choose how to react to it. Take baby steps towards fixing what’s making you miserable. If it’s something that can’t be done away with, try to cope. When we were younger, and less mature, we shied away from discomfort, from things that ‘hurt’, like needles, but as we grow older, we have to grit our teeth and realise that needles exist in the world the way darkness and wind does. We cannot run away from it – we can only delay its occurrence – because it exists in ourselves. Life is the host of misery.
Perhaps you really are good. Perhaps you’re at a point in your life where you’re happy with yourself and the direction you are going, and when asked the question, you answer with a genuine smile. That’s wonderful, and I am happy for you. You serve as a poster-child of hope for the ones who are struggling. You show us that happiness and contentment is possible. Nevertheless, I’m sure you weren’t always that way. To get to the blissful state you are in right now, you probably get to go through your share of hell and nitty-gritty hard work. You are so strong, and I admire you. You deserve everything you get.
Or maybe, you think you’re happy. But you know you are not. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not good at fooling ourselves. When something is wrong, we know it. Our hearts tell us. In that case, I urge you to seek your true happiness. Your dreams. There is no pain worse than dying with your music unsung.
Do you ever sometimes want to run out into the middle of some desert as the sun sets and the clouds catch fire and throw your arms up in that wide, empty expanse and scream in a long, yodeling ululation, just for the heck of it? Just to say to the universe, hey, look at me, I’m alive, I’m here, I’m me and I’m shouting. Just to release all the tension in your soul. Hear me roar.
But I’m here to tell you that you can roar in other ways. Quieter ways, but not the less satisfying for it. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to go after your dreams. It’s hard to find your own happiness. The world is an indifferent place, and most of the time you feel like a tiny little nothing. Life pulls you in different directions, and no-one seems to care. But it is the only way to truly live in the way death is the only end to life. We don’t know much of anything, but we know this.
Hey. I have a dream. Do you want to hear it?
If on the off and improbable chance the universe ever pops his head out of the celestial administration office to check on us little folks on this little ball of rock, and asks “How are you all?”, this is the reply I want us to give, deep from our hearts:
“We are good. We are so damn good.”