words are all i have

There’s a reason we have two shoulders—one to carry our load and one to carry the load of others

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How often do we say “I’m fine” when we are not fine?

It is an oft-repeated lie, certainly the most common mistruth told by the human species and we are all guilty.

We do this not out of malice but, rather, out of consideration for others. We recognize that each of us is a pack mule whose withers strain mightily under the challenges of life, thus we do not wish to burden others with the weight of our woes.

What we should understand, however, is that shoulders are as wide as the heart is high and deep.

Our hearts have the capacity to love more than one person. More than one flower. More than one food. More than one song. More than one book. More than one animal. Similarly, our shoulders are capable of supporting not just our own heft but that of others.

That is why we have two of them.

This does not mean that we unload on every person who inquires about our state of mental or physical wellness. For example, when you arrive at the checkout counter in the market, if the cashier is performing her/his task properly she/he will greet you with a smile and ask, “How are you today?” or “How is your day going?” and you respond by saying, “Fine, thank you.” It could be that your dog just died or your divorce became final that day, but you’re “fine.” You recognize that the cashier is a stranger who might compound your grief by accidentally dropping a jug of milk on your carton of eggs, so you prefer to keep the conversation light and breezy rather than use the checkout queue as a platform for a discourse on divorce and doggy death.

(Strangers, mind you, can offer a very supportive shoulder. Why do you think they invented the bartender?)

We tend to reserve the tough stuff, the burdensome issues, for dear ones. For people who genuinely care. Yet, even then, there often is a reluctance to get into it. We are “fine” even when our sky is falling.

There are two reasons for this: 1) We’re convinced no one is truly interested in our woes; 2) we grow weary of discussing it.

Many times I have asked people how they’re feeling. I am sincere. Yet often, the response I get is, “I might as well be fine because nobody wants to hear about my problems.”

That simply isn’t so. People do wish to help, even if it’s just by listening.

For example, I know a woman who has been experiencing difficulty with a business partnerhip. She and I spent a brief amount of time together recently, and she devoted much of it in lament. Things were not “fine.” She was not “fine.” She hadn’t wanted their cooperative to dissolve, but it had arrived at a state of non-repair.

“I’m sorry,” she said at one point, “I shouldn’t be venting. You don’t need to hear this.”

No, I did not need to hear it. She, however, needed to say it. To someone other than her cat.

When we parted, we hugged and went our separate ways, then she turned back and said, “I really didn’t mean to vent, but thank you for letting me vent.”

I walked to her vehicle, and motioned for her to roll down the driver’s window.

“There’s a reason we have two shoulders,” I said.

She looked puzzled.

“One,” I said, pointing to my left shoulder, “is to carry our personal load. The other (tapping my right shoulder) is to help carry the load of others.”

This is a truism. We sometimes need another’s shoulder.

Not so long ago, I made a vow to refrain from discussing my myriad of physical issues. I went so far as to make a Facebook posting, whereby I kindly asked my friends to resist the urge to inquire about my wellness.

“I’m tired of talking about it,” I advised them. “I’m fine. Honest.”

Yet, two days later, I met a friend who is waging, and winning, a war with cancer. He had seen my Facebook posting and commented that he could relate to my feelings.

“I’m so tired of talking about my health, too,” he admitted.

We then spent the next 15 minutes discussing his cancer and my kidneys and heart. Neither of us was “fine” and we weren’t inclined to BS one another about it. We used each others shoulders. I don’t know if my friend felt any better, but I know I did.

So, the next time someone asks how you are doing, you might not want to simply dismiss the question and say, “I’m fine.” It might be healthier to vent.

Just don’t do it if I’m standing behind you in the checkout queue at the market. Please.

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