And I told you to be patient
And told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
… Ed Sheeran
When the Divine Miss M was in second grade, she told me that her best little friend had whispered in her ear ‘the ultimate F word,’ and “I’m not going to repeat it to you but it rhymes with duck.” I was caught between humor and dismay, chuckling at the description but also thinking ‘Really? Already?’ It turned out M wasn’t really all that interested in the scandalous art of cursing, she wanted grown-up confirmation that it really was ‘the ultimate F word.’ (That child has lived in a black and white, need to know world from day one, let me tell you).
More recently, I was having a conversation with her and she ended up referencing, very matter-of-factly that the opposite of love is hate. She continued talking but my thoughts paused with that statement, as they often do when I hear that basic sentiment expressed. It’s so easily accepted – hate is the opposite of love.
It’s not, of course, except in a child’s world. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, which coincidentally is far more painful. She’ll probably learn that some day, which as a parent I’d do anything to prevent but I can’t, of course.
I wonder if she’ll also learn ‘the word that rhymes with duck’ isn’t actually the ultimate F word.
Cursing is used in many ways – sometimes in jest, but often to express incredulity, shock, anger. In any event, it’s used for emphasis of one sort or another. Fierce anger, incredulity, shock, dismay. All emotions or reactions that may drive people back, away from us. Logic would dictate then that the ultimate curse word would be the most effective at that. It’s not, of course. Because the ultimate F word isn’t a curse word at all, it’s Fine. I’m Fine.
I don’t mean the fine that comes in an argument with your spouse or partner. I feel confident Jodi is not the only person aware that when their spouse says fine at the end of an argument, usually in a short, clipped manner with possibly gritted teeth, things are anything but fine.
I’m talking about the “I’m fine” that stands as a common response to “How are you?” or “Are you okay?” or “Is something wrong?” So many times, no matter who is asking, we respond to those inquiries about our well-being with the words, “I’m fine” or “Everything is Fine.” Even when we are so not fine we might well be crumbling inside, when it’s an effort to take the breath necessary to even say the words, we still manage “I’m fine.”
Why is it so important to be fine? When exactly did that become the image to which we all aspire? It doesn’t make us stronger to be ‘fine,’ to be unaffected or emotionless. If anything, it makes us stronger when we can admit to weaknesses, hurts, outrage, indignation. But there’s no question that “I’m fine” usually ends the conversation – drives people back a little and puts up a wall. Occasionally it’s understandable – maybe it’s not someone with whom you’d want to discuss it, maybe it’s someone who’s asking more out of obligation than true caring, maybe it’s just not a good time.
The truth is though that many times it’s someone who loves us that’s asking. It’s our spouse, our best friend, a member of our chosen tribe and they’re asking because they want to know. And many times we still answer their inquiry with “I’m fine” or “Everything’s fine.”
I’m not sure about other people, but I know my messed up reasons for answering that way. At some point along the way, I adopted the thinking that if I can’t change something, then it’s a failing on my part to not be able to accept it and move on. To be bothered by it is nonsensical and therefore a fault. (A healthier person might recognize the demands I make on myself, and others, are a tad high …).
When I hear the lyrics from Ed Sheeran that I quoted above, I always picture that as talking to myself. I tell myself to be patient, kind, balanced and fine, dammit. (Ironically, I get very IMpatient and UNkind with myself when I can’t manage the other two.) I say a lot of “I’m fines” on Father’s Day. I could probably have a relationship with my father if I never openly acknowledged my family when we spoke and I was only ever around him without my partner. But I find that unacceptable for several obvious reasons. Thus, to an extent, that’s my choice, I suppose. As a result, it seems ridiculous on my part to not be fine, especially since I am fortunate enough to have other father figures in my life. I should be fine.
We tell ourselves that a lot, that we should be fine, that to not be fine we have to know we’re justified in not being so.
And yet, I find myself very accepting of the fact that we all have a little crazy. We all have irrational things that trigger bizarre, extreme reactions and that even if we know what those are, we can’t always stop ourselves. And that’s okay. Just like it’s okay to not be fine. If someone asks you if you’re alright, it’s not a failing to say, “No, not really.” Putting up the wall of I’m fine isn’t something to aspire to, it isn’t helpful, it isn’t honest and occasionally it sells short the very people who are asking. If we’re lucky enough to have people in our lives who care enough to ask, then let’s refrain from throwing up the wall of the ultimate F word. Let’s practice occasionally answering with “no, I’m not okay, and here’s why.”