Are you okay? How are you feeling? These simple questions often illicit an automated response out of habit or fear. Fear for the asker or the asked. We know the blurry line of asking or answering such a question, that it’s good and right to do so, but that perhaps the answer isn’t genuine.
At other times, such a simple question creates space for the responder to really ponder and comb through if they truly are okay. It gives them an opportunity to open up to the asker and to themselves. This is especially true for women–pregnant women, new mothers, all mothers, really. So why is is it so hard to ask and mean it? And why is it so hard to accept the answers?
I thought about this is a lot this weekend as I watched clips from Meghan Markle’s ITV documentary of her 10-day trip to Africa with Prince Harry. While we are not the same, and the pressures don’t equate, in very simplistic sense, our experiences often overlap. I’ve considered this when balancing kids, work, and managing life, and folks were wanting me to dig into these difficulties, assuming I was okay. But we don’t want assumptions—we want to be asked, genuinely asked. Tracking back, I know that friends who asked me if I was okay, and meant it, received the most genuine response. I am a Cancer after all! I am usually completely bordered (my brother once used “secretive”); or I’m like a funnel, slowly pushing through all, letting people past the boundaries when they give me a true chance and I feel safe. I am a hard person to get to, even if you feel like you have.
But knowing this about myself, has inspired me to ask others where they are, even if I feel like I don’t have the full emotional capacity. I can still ask, “Are you okay?” and hold space for their response. You don’t have to do anything with the answers. We just keep them. No matter how they look. What privileges they entail; how easy, difficult, or glamorous their lives look to be; or what assumptions we’ve made.
So, are you okay?