There’s a greeting that’s often given me: Are you okay? I usually respond to the soul who shows concern for my wellbeing in this manner by simply saying, “Fine and you.” Occasionally, if the person who greets me is close in our relationship, I might say, “I’m better today than yesterday, but I pray not as good as tomorrow.” If I’m really connected to the person, I have no hesitation about telling them how I really feel.
The preceding is the normal kind of civil greeting that most of us give to one another, or some version thereof. I often experience something that only another with a chronic health condition can understand. I remember shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, folks would ask me how I was doing. With chemotherapy and all manner of other drugs being a part of my routine, there were times when I felt horrible. There was this one person who would admonish me for being honest about how I really felt. The conversation would go something like: “Hello Brother Long. How are you doing today?” I would offer an honest, but not complete assessment of how I felt by saying, “Thanks for asking. I’m a little tired today. I just came from cancer clinic.” He would admonish me, or at least it felt that way, by saying something like, “Aw, come on you’re doing fine. You’re up and moving around, aren’t you? Thank God!” At that moment, I felt like I really needed a good dose of compassion, but it didn’t come. Each time I suffered this experience, I intellectually understood what he was trying to do; however, intellectualizing my feelings isn’t what I needed.
People who suffer from chronic illness are often faced with people, who try their best to show good intentions, but fail to consider what someone might be feeling. There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. You know the one that says you can’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes/moccasins. I used to use that expression frequently, but after living with cancer for twenty years, I try to no longer cause chronically ill folks to suffer from my insensitive attempts to get them to feel better than the state in which they exist. These days, I even find myself pausing to listen to what they have to say. Oftentimes, listening is all I do. You see I can’t walk in their moccasins. At my very best, I can only walk beside them, listen and pray, if they so desire. It’s been my experience that giving the opportunity to allow a person to honestly tell you how they feel is good medicine. It doesn’t take the physical pain away, but it often works wonders for the psyche.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.