Many years back my friend was going through a painful divorce. She was my close friend some time before that event, but we lost the connection when we started to pursue different paths in life.

I learned about her divorce from others and I knew it was a tough experience for her. I wanted to call her, cuddle her and offer her my listening ear. I felt so much compassion that I could not bear it, in fact. Yet, I found myself completely blocked and immobilized to take any action. I felt lost.

I simply did not know what to tell and how to ask about her feelings. I did not know how to start a conversation and how to tell that I knew she was in trouble. I wanted to help badly yet I couldn’t make the step. Anything that I thought I could say seemed ridiculous. I felt it would be stupid to call her just because I had no clue how to start. I got stuck. I could not collect my courage, so I did not call.

Luckily, I connected to her later with a help of another friend, still in time to offer my understanding and support. To my surprise, the connection was perfectly easy and natural. All the projected fears of not knowing what to say and how to express my love were completely irrelevant. My care was enough for her to appreciate the connection.

I have learned something powerful from this experience.

You can conquer the whole world.
You can become the top achiever.
You can become rich and famous.

Yet, if you fail to ask a simple question:

“How are you, dear friend?”

you have not learned how to live.

And you know, there are times when it is extremely hard to ask this question.

These are the times when your friend or family member is going through a life-threatening illness, a painful loss or challenging life circumstances. These are the times when you just know your colleague at work is really lost and without hope, yet your supervisory or managerial position ‘does not allow’ to ask more, or you don’t even want to bother.  It is potentially too much trouble. These are the times when you see a stranger in tears,  yet it is not proper to ask her what’s wrong or how you can help.

We have the norms in the end, don’t we?

Have you noticed how easy it is to discuss jobs, progress, achievements or plans, but how difficult is it to ask about personal feelings? It is scary to ask about them sometimes. In the end we have enough our own troubles, don’t we?

When you ask the question, it is as if the shields drop down and you may see a naked truth. In such a moment you are willing to show how you are because your shields are down too. Floods of emotions may follow.

Are you prepared?

Like for Parzival who had to conquer the whole world and wander aimlessly for years before he could finally connect to others and himself, it is important for us to ask this powerful question. This is the question that heals and transforms. A question that Parzival had to ask his uncle Anfortas was  “What is it that troubles you, dear uncle?” And this single question, of pure love and interest stopped the illness and sufferings of Anfortas. It made him whole again.

If you ask “How are you?” with deep interest and care, you need to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to the other person. In doing so, you recognize a part of yourself in the other person, a certain vulnerability. You become receptive to learn something about the other and yourself. You recognize the part of consciousness you are both sharing. You give a gift of attention and love. You offer your willingness to change, facilitate a transformation and to heal.

It is not easy, perhaps. But it is essential.

My friend is dying now and I am sad. So, I hurry to ask “How are you, dear friend?”. Because it matters. We both need love and healing.

Is there any person in your life waiting for somebody to give him a seed of interest and care?
Don’t wait.  It is your turn to act now.

And, in meantime, let me ask  “How are things with you, dear friend?”

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The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

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Addendum: My friend died two months after writing this post. I’m glad I was able to support him in the last days.

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