The Gift Of Asking, “Are You OK?”

We’ve all had the experience of struggling with a difficult situation. It can be cancer, divorce, the passing of a loved one, sudden loss of income, unkind words, or plans disrupted. Asking each other if we’re OK is a gift of empathy in the midst of stirred emotions that begins the healing process. When a caring voice in our day asks, “Are you OK?” we are being offered understanding and comfort. It’s easy to see how this can enhance our well-being.

In November, Meghan Markle wrote an article in The New York Times sharing her experience of being asked “Are you OK?” She and Prince Harry were traveling in Africa with their infant son, and she was exhausted. Reporters followed them everywhere, and when a journalist quietly asked her if she was OK, she honestly answered that she wasn’t, which struck a note with new mothers everywhere. She was touched by the kindness behind the question and thanked the journalist for being one of the few people to ever ask her that. The importance of that question, and the gift it contained, stayed with her.

The question came up when she miscarried her second pregnancy in July of 2020, and she again shared what wasn’t OK. In Meghan’s words, “Some have bravely shared their stories; they opened the door, knowing that when one person speaks truth, it gives license for all of us to do the same. We have learned that when people ask how we are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter – for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.” Other couples having the same experience felt freer to share their grief, and were comforted. Megan’s story illustrates that the connections we have with each other give purpose and meaning to our lives. 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I needed to prepare myself for a double mastectomy. I went shopping for some loose tops to wear post-surgery. The sales woman must have noticed I wasn’t exactly chipper and she asked me if I was OK. When I told her why I was there and what I was buying, she immediately began giving me encouraging words and offered to pray for me. She helped me find everything I needed and, after walking me to the front door, gave me a hug. Her asking me if I was OK, followed by her kind response, changed my entire shopping trip and gave me an unexpected gift that lifted my spirits and left me feeling blessed. Her question and kindness are still remembered.     

But, before we can ask anyone else how they are doing, we need to check in with ourselves. This means accepting ourselves with tenderness and compassion instead of harsh judgement. On days when we are harsh with ourselves, we don’t want to ask anyone else if they are OK because we will be harsh with them as well. If we’re not in the right headspace to listen with an open mind and be supportive, we need to step back and perhaps refer them to someone else in their support system. When we’re relaxed, concerned, and caring, others will usually respond. We also need to respect when someone isn’t ready to talk, and reassure them that we’ll listen whenever they choose to share.

Only a few important attributes are needed to give the gift of asking someone if they are OK. We need to listen without interrupting, avoid judging their situation, and allow times of silence. Tears can be shared without embarrassment. This is a time for comfort, not confrontation. Anything not understood needs clarity, so sometimes we may need to ask a question or repeat what we have heard. Despite the urge to do otherwise, let’s wait to be asked for our (oh so) valuable advice. And, let’s listen to their experience before we share our own. All of this is part of staying connected with compassion, which can make a significant difference in anyone’s day.

As we build relationships, we can create the kind that foster deep connections, so that when someone is struggling, we can respond with loving support. Asking “Are you OK?” doesn’t have to be in person – it can be Facebook, Zoom, Messenger, or email. During COVID we can still be in person if we observe safety procedures while we walk in Riverside Park, sit on a front porch, stroll the beach, or meander through McKee Gardens. Every time we reach out to each other with compassion, we build a kindness bank of memories for future reference. We all have a lot to handle right now, so let’s check in with each other to see if we’re OK. It’s a valued gift that benefits both giver and receiver. And every time we’re not OK, let’s remember: we will be with support, time, and love.

Until Next time – Sylvia  

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