It’s a familiar script. “How are you doing?” asks one friend. “I’m so busy,” says the other. Or, if you’re me, “I’m underwater with work. I’m so busy I’m practically drowning.” Underwater. That’s how I describe my life far too frequently. If I don’t utter a noncommittal and unconvincing and ungrammatical “I’m good,” I almost always say I’m busy. I tell everyone what I’m doing, not how I’m doing. I talk about actions and places to be, things to accomplish, plans and goals—all the things that tug on my subconscious and give me anxiety dreams. The things that pull on my insides. The things that tax me. (What a great word, right? The things that tax us. That take away pieces over and over and over.)
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
Last night, a friend asked me how I was doing. I didn’t have words at the moment. Instead, I started crying in the middle of a bar. Crying in public is a strange thing—to be so intimately on display in such an uncomfortable, unscripted, undesirable way. It’s a little grotesque, and people never know where to look. And yet I do it all the time. Partially because I’m just overflowing a little bit all the time, but also because I’ve stopped caring about whether my current emotions are too much. (When I did care about this, the answer was always. They are always too much.)
But also, I’ve learned that crying in front of others can become joyful far more quickly than crying alone. Yes, I do feel ridiculous when my eyes are leaking saltwater and my nose is threatening to join in. But then I saw her face become sweet and sad and concerned. And my heart began to feel less scorched, less fragmented. Sometimes, the recognition of others, their willingness to ask about the shape of your heart, sometimes that can give back the little pieces that are taxed away by the everyday. It gives you back the bits of yourself that you didn’t realize you had lost.
It’s attentiveness and recognition. To be seen. What a gift.
How is your heart doing today, friend?