“So how are you?” I ask. My friend immediately responds, “I’m excellent,” with an emphasis on “excellent.” The word, “Really,” pops out of my mouth as a question. I don’t mean to be challenging. Just curious. He looks at me, “Well, I’m good. Or, at least, things are okay.” He smiles sheepishly, “Turns out, I’m not excellent.” Since it’s obvious to the both of us that it isn’t the time or place to go into more detail, we’re at a neighborhood social gathering, and it will take a longer conversation to get more information about how things are “okay.” So, I share with him some information about the stress I’ve been under, related to different projects I’m working on.
I hope that my openness to share what is really going on for me helps him to feel more willing to disclose what is going on for him at some point. Who knows. We’ll see. It can be emotionally risky to share on a deeper level. Partly due to the risk of disclosing something intimate to another person. And partly due to facing something someone may want to avoid. But holding it in can result in consequences that can be far worse.
I scan the faces of my friends around me. I enjoy watching their expressive faces. As I move from conversation to conversation, I hear about so many different transitions. A transition in work for a friend who is contemplating a new career. A transition from life for a friend whose mother is in hospice. A transition to a new home in a new city. I feel honored to witness these transformations. There is so much meaningful experience in just a few city blocks. And people willing to share their experience with each other. It takes courage.
And I know that this is just a scratch at the surface. Even with the people closest to us, the divide between us can be great. What we can see on the outside doesn’t come close to helping us to know what is going on for someone on the inside. We are often strangers who occupy the same physical space, standing together, alone. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. We have opportunities to look beneath the surface and share the emotional depths that lie within each of us. We can create a safe place with people we love and trust. Or even with strangers. It just takes a leap of faith.