are you alright?

are you alright?

How are you? It’s a common enough phrase – probably asked and answered a dozen times every few days. You know… back when we left the house. In fact, across time it is probably one of the most asked questions around the world; that’s an interesting thought. If we seemingly care so much about wanting a status update as to each other’s wellbeing, why do we do such a crap job of actually ensuring each other are, in fact, OK? Because let’s be honest. When is the last time you said anything in response to this other than: I’m fine; I’m good; I’m alright; not bad; or the classic, self-deprecating can’t complain; or even better, the immediate return volley: good good, you? So, as much as it may be the most asked question in the world, it is also safe to assume it produces the most uninspired, glossed-over answers of any query in our human discourse. Why is that? Why are we so eager to conform our answers to the banal and so relieved when others do the same? If you don’t actually care enough about the person you are talking with to properly care how they are, then why are you talking to them? And what is the baseline exchange when people are mere acquaintances? How else does one move from acquaintance to friend other than by being open enough to lean into the question? 

And what if you’re not OK? How much you choose to share is directly proportional to how comfortable you are with the vulnerable squishiness of your thoughts and feelings being in someone else’s hands. Do they truly care about you? Are they looking for insider gossip to share down the chain? Are they not close enough to get the context of what’s on your mind? Or are they too close – requiring an even more prudent edit.

Because of the self-isolation reality we are in, I’ve become desperate for human contact, in part to break up my groundhog-like days and also because I really miss those that I love. So I spend more time than ever on social media – liking and commenting and sharing; or sending funny texts to people; or surprising others with good old-fashioned voice-to-voice check ins. What I’ve noticed is (insert Homer Simpson “Duh!”) the more you connect with people, the more they connect with you. And I have been humbled by how often people have responded first with gratitude… “thanks for checking in with me”, or “that video made me laugh, I really needed that”, or “you made my day”, usually followed by some actual sharing of how they are REALLY doing. I love it. And if any good can be pulled from this moment in time, I hope it is the transformative reminder that – after time – our love and relationships with each other are the most precious possession we have. Don’t waste either.

I think, in the end, what we need are better questions. I suggest you consider starting with the sublime simplicity of Lucinda Williams’ Are You Alright? It may seem a subtle twist on How are you? But there is something more permissive and open in the phrasing that makes me actually want to answer honestly. Have a read of her lyrics for some ideas and try it out on the next person you see. You might be surprised and rewarded by a real answer.

Are You Alright? – Lucinda Williams

Are you all right?
All of a sudden you went away
Are you all right?
I hope you come back around someday
Are you all right?
I haven’t seen you in a real long time
Are you all right?
Could you give me some kind of sign?

Are you all right?
I looked around me and you were gone
Are you all right?
I feel like there must be something wrong
Are you all right?
‘Cause it seems like you disappeared
Are you all right?
‘Cause I’ve been feeling a little scared
Are you all right?

Are you sleeping through the night?
Do you have someone to hold you tight?
Do you have someone to hang out with?
Do you have someone to hug and kiss you?
Hug and kiss you

Hug and kiss you

Are you all right?

Are you all right?
Is there something been bothering you?
Are you all right?
I wish you’d give me a little clue
Are you all right?
Is there something you want to say?
Are you all right?
Just tell me that you’re OK
Are you all right?
‘Cause you took off without a word
Are you all right?
You flew away like a little bird
Are you all right?
Is there anything I can do?
Are you all right?
‘Cause I need to hear from you
Are you all right?

Are you sleeping through the night?
Do you have someone to hold you tight?
Do you have someone to hang out with?

Do you have someone to hug and kiss you?
Hug and kiss you
Hug and kiss you
Are you all right?

Are you all right?
Are you all right?