Recently I was out to lunch with a friend. As we were leaving, we headed up to the host stand to pay our bill. I looked at the young man behind the register and asked him simply, "How are you doing today?" He looked startled. I said, "Is everything okay?" He said, "Yes, but literally no one ever asks how I am doing." We struck up a conversation and he said how much it meant to him to just have someone acknowledge him and simply ask how he was.
The really amazing thing about this is it had just happened to me at the same restaurant a few weeks ago, but this time with a server. He also seemed greatly surprised by my question and also said no one ever asks him how he is.
The simplest question to offer another human - "How are you?" And no one asks - or cares.
What a terribly commentary on our lives.
Since then I have noticed this more and more. When I call a business, for example, I always share my name and then say "How are you today?" Often people actually just seem annoyed, like maybe I am trying to bother them or sell them something. They seem very much on guard.
A few years ago I took my daughter, who was young at the time, to see a musical at The Fox Theater. When we approached the usher to find our seats, I said, "Hi, how are you today?" The woman looked like I had slapped her, genuinely angry. She said, "What did you say to me?!" I was taken aback, and assumed she had misunderstood me. I said more gently, "I was just asking how you were doing today." She literally gritted her teeth as she replied, "That is absolutely NONE of your business." I was shocked. At the Fox Theater, with a professional usher, that her first instinct toward a guest was to assume the worst when asked how she was doing.
I don't know what had this woman on edge that day, but I know enough about life that a big blow up like that "isn't about this" nine times out of ten. You don't know the experiences other people are bringing to the table. In an even more complicated world where we find ourselves today, where opinions are polarized and immediately spark anger, our words matter more than ever.
When we have reached a place in society that we don't take time to ask the most basic of questions, "How are you?," how can we ever expect to understand others? How can we ever have a meaningful conversation? When each and every one of us has lived a shared trauma over the last few years - don't we owe it to each other to just slow down and ask "How are you?"
It doesn't have to be a long conversation. This person doesn't have to become your new best friend. You may never see them or talk to them again. But - you are recognizing them with the simplest and kindest of human dignity. I see you. Your life matters. I'm glad our lives intersected today. For even this short moment, I can offer you the smallest of kindnesses.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar in the World, explains the every day practice of blessing others - which this simple question often does. Taylor remarks, "Start throwing blessings around and chances are you will start noticing all kinds of things you never noticed before. The next time you are at the airport, try blessing the people sitting at the departure gate with you. Every one of them is dealing with something significant... Even if you cannot know for sure what is going on with them, you can still give a care. They are on their way somewhere, the same way you are. They are between places too, with no more certainty than you about what will happen at the other end. Pronounce a silent blessing and pay attention to what happens in the air between you and that other person, all those other people... All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars."
Slow down. Look someone in the eyes. Recognize them as another human just trying to get through the day. Communicate warmth, kindness, love. It is a calling from Christ. Don't let someone spend their day being recognized by no one. You can be the difference - and we can't underestimate how powerful that can be.