Here’s a good one.
There is a three-word phrase that you probably say just about every day of your life, whether it’s to yourself or to someone else. It’s not “I love you,” and it’s not “f my life” but to me, it’s just as overstated and meaningless.
What do you typically say to a good friend who is:
- Struggling with school?
- Nervous about searching for employment?
- Scared of dying alone?
- About to embark on a big trip?
- Having wedding-day jitters?
- Undergoing stage fright right before the show’s opening?
- Has been trying and trying and trying but failing?
- Has lost faith in himself?
- Has lost faith in everything?
If you’re like most of the world, the response in your head at this point is something like:
“You’ll be fine.”
BUT WILL I BE?
It seems to be the catch-all answer these days.
I first noticed it being used more frequently last year in Houston, when struggling to complete my coursework and my master’s thesis. My professors used it as a clap-on-the-shoulder, “I have to do something else but I want to end this conversation on a positive note even though it may or may not be true.” My parents have used it in pretty much every conversation about anything I’ve been nervous about over the past year, from moving to a new apartment in a new city, attending a new school, and eating yogurt after its expiration date. I’ve heard it from friends, family members, doctors, teachers, and even acquaintances. Over the past few days, I’ve heard it said to me about a hundred times and have even resorted to using it myself.
But what does it mean? What does “fine” actually mean? Where’s the context?
“Fine” can mean so many different things. It can be used as a brief explanation to someone that you aren’t dying, it can be used to express happiness, it can be used to express disinterest. It can also be used ironically, to show disgust or annoyance. It’s one of those words that if you say it too many times, it loses all meaning. “Fine” can mean physically healthy, emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, safe, having money, or any combination of the above. Once upon a time, saying you’re “fine” meant that everything was going 100% smoothly and well in your life, but now, even if everything is completely out of whack, you can just say it and no one will suspect a thing since our sensibilities can no longer handle transparency anymore.
Here’s the way I see it…
My dad has a client who happens to be a very high-strung woman in her 70s. Let’s call her Doris. Doris is a wife, mother, and grandmother, with a college education, an incredible high-profile career, and so many friends that she can’t fit them all into her apartment for get-togethers. She’s the exact opposite of a cat lady – respected, honored, and leads an active social and professional life that would be envied by most. Plus, she’s friendly, fashionable, and charming. Whenever Doris and my dad talk, she’s usually fretting about something money-related, like her paycheck (from her contracts from which she works, which is hit-and-miss but lucrative when she’s working), her social security (which she hasn’t yet started claiming) or her will (and despite a physical disability, she’s in great shape for her age). And it’s always the same tone with her – at level 10. From the way she talks and how she describes herself, you’d think she’d be a step away from being evicted and that her next meal might come from a dumpster behind a Taco Bell. I, myself, am not privy to details about Doris’ financial situation; needless to say, I think that despite her paranoia she’s got a lot of bases covered to sustain emotionally, physically, and financially for the rest of her life. I don’t know if she chooses to see herself that way, or if she actually does, but either way, her self-perception is completely untrue. And every time my dad talks to her (and about her, outside the office) he says that she’ll be fine.
That I can go for. That’s what being fine means to me – she’s already lived a full and happy life and continues to live it even as I type this entry when I should be studying. She has the money she needs, friends and family who love her, all her mental and almost all her physical faculties, and finds new things to love every day.
Basically, I dream of having a life like that.
However…that’s not the case with me. I’m a constant worrier, yes, and I do over-analyze a lot, but let’s get real here. I struggle every day in a different way. Most of the time, I am not fine. Big or small, and whether I know it or not, I feel like there’s something that’s always not right. Will I be fine in my life? With God’s blessing and no major catastrophes, yes. Will I be fine this minute? No, not necessarily. I am safe, I’m not even unhappy, yet there’s a falling-quicksand sensation in my brain that not everything is all right.
Will I be fine?
You don’t know. I don’t know. I hope so.
In the future, when someone says then to me, I’ll continue to accept it, given the large amount of possible subtext lying beneath the phrase. As to whether I’ll believe it or not, that depends on how I’m feeling that day. The fact of the matter: sometimes it’s hard to believe it, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Sometimes it helps to hear, but sometimes it doesn’t. Let your actions speak louder than your words, but don’t let your words slide down.
This was a particularly long and heavy post, so here’s an audiovisual representation of how I usually feel when you say this to me, with a special thanks to Whitney Houston: