At the end of my play STAGES, I say that one of the things that having cancer has changed is the way people ask me how I’m doing.
We say “How you doing” to each other all the time, but does anyone really mean it? Can you imagine being in your office, saying “How you doing” to the person next to you, and they respond with, “Well, now that you asked…”
I’m having a panic attack just thinking about it.
But for the past two and a half years, when people ask me how I’m doing, they’re not messing around. I know because they don’t ask me as a question, they say it as a statement. They’re like, “How you doing.” With a downward inflection and a touch on the face.
Why am I writing about this? Because over the past two days, I’ve faced this question twice.
I’ve had the great pleasure yesterday and the day before to chat with some people I haven’t spoken to in a while. Each of them asked me how I was doing. This wasn’t idle chat. They wanted to know about my health.
Which is fair. And I like when people ask. In fact, it’s kind of weird when they don’t. It’s like when someone gets newly engaged and you don’t say anything about it. I’m just standing there, showing off my ring like, “Are you sure there isn’t something you want to ask me about??”
The problem is I really don’t know how to respond. There is no easy one word answer. Because on one hand, I’m not ok. Things have metastasized in my lungs and a few other places, I’m in the middle of my third round of chemotherapy, one that has no real end date, and I still have coughing fits and wheeze when I walk up the stairs. So it’s impossible for me to look someone in the eyes and say that things are totally fine.
But on the other hand, things are totally fine. The medicine wipes me out for a day or two, but after that I feel normal. While I still wheeze when I walk up stairs I’m not panting and heaving and gasping for air like I was two months ago. Also, I’m pretty happy most every day. Sure I have my moments, but I know lots of people who are way more depressed than me and I don’t think they have so much as a seasonal allergy. Since I don’t teach in the summer I’ve gotten to perform my show a bunch, travel the country, sit by the pool. Yesterday I took a hike in Paris Mountain State Park. I’m writing every day and next week I’m going on my first real vacation in over three years. So looking at it from that angle, I’m having the time of my life.
I’ve never been a perfectionist. As I’m sure daily readers of the blog can attest to. I know my posts have typos. They just don’t really bother me. I can feel the grammar nazis in the audience cringing. “Instead of becoming a Patreon, I’m just going to buy him Grammerly.”
But it’s one of the things I’m most thankful for. In a quest for perfection, people run the risk of overlooking how good things are. And life is many things, but perfect it is not. I refuse to hold it to so high a standard. So I’m cool with things being not ok and totally ok at the exact same time. And since that doesn’t allow for a quick and easy answer to the how you doing question, I think I’m just going to start telling people the truth:
Friend: How you doing.
Me: I’m fine. Not really. But actually I am. Unless you consider. Which I don’t most days. Basically life is good in the face of the bad. But that’s not just for me, that’s for everyone so…..
(Friend stares in stunned silence.)
Me: Any lame. Enough about me, how are you?
Friend: Well, now that you asked…
(I look at the audience. A blank stare falls across my face.)
Me: Dear God, what have I done?
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