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“Fine” is fine.

I’m fine.  And I’m fine with saying that, even if I’m sick, or the day has left me feeling like a punching bag, or if I’m missing my grandmother (which I always am).  But there is (especially among women) a certain disdain for fine-sayers, the attitude that to declare one’s self fine is shallow and fake.  So I appreciated this wisdom from Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter who is anything but shallow (emphasis mine):

We know that every night, war or no war, there are people lying awake grieving, and that every morning, people wake to absences that will never be filled.  But we shut our mouths and go ahead.  How we are is “Fine.”  There are always a few who will recite their complaints, but the proper answer to “How are you?” is “Fine.”

The thing you have most dreaded has happened at last.  The worst thing you might have expected has happened, and you didn’t expect it.  You have grown old and ill, and most of those you love are dead or gone away.  Even so:

“How are you?”

“Fine.  How’re you?”


There is always some shame or fear in this, I think, shame for the selfishness and loneliness of grief, the fear of the difference between your grief and anybody else’s.  But this is a kind of courtesy too and a kind of honesty, this unwillingness to act as if loss and grief and suffering are extraordinary.  And there is something else: an honoring of the kind of solitude in which the grief you bear will have to be borne.  Should you fall and your neighbor’s shoulder and weep in the midst of work?  Should you go to the store with tears on your face?  No.  You are fine.

And yet the comfort somehow get passed around: a few words that are never forgotten, a note in the mail, a look, a touch, a pat, a hug, a kind of waiting with, a kind of standing by, to the end.  Once in a while we hear it sung out in a hymn, when every throat seems suddenly widened with love and a common longing.


About secondinaseriesofsix

My job and my family keep me inspired and laughing by turns. Here's a taste.

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