How was your day?
Yes, your day. I’d like to hear how your day was, so if you feel like writing a note to let me know, I hope you will.
My son, who is not quite 10, has recently been asking me every day when I pick him up from summer camp, “How was your day?” He’s done this on and off over the last year, and it’s always a really lovely moment that catches me by surprise. While I certainly try to instill courtesy and empathy in him, he’s still a relatively wee one, and I don’t expect him to ask about my day. So lately he’s been asking me every day, and it fills my heart with this huge smile, and even if it had been a rough day, it’s like in that moment, suddenly it’s all okay.
I’ve had occasion over these last few months to reflect on what it is to be heard, what it is to have your presence acknowledged (which can be done with as simple as question as “How was your day?” I’ve discovered to my delight!). It started when I was expressing frustration to a kind friend about a repeated lack of response from a person I regularly had to interact with. She said, “It sounds like you want more attention from this person.” The hackles went up on the back of my neck, and I declared I did not want attention from this person (it wasn’t someone I was close to). She clarified that she meant that I needed acknowledgment, I needed response to my necessary correspondence with this person: I needed to be heard, and it was that lack of acknowledgment that had me tied in knots. When we don’t really hear someone, it’s like we’re saying, “You’re not really there.” Bam. Yes. That was it. I just wanted to be heard, needed to be heard. Even a 1 line email back saying, “I got your email – will get back to you soon” would have been enough.
[down-the-garden-path-sidenotes: 1) as I write this, I’m reminded of Tom Stoppard’s beautifully heartbreaking definition of death in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: “it’s the absence of presence, nothing more.” Perhaps this is too dramatic (no pun intended), but might it be fair to offer that when someone doesn’t acknowledge your presence, it’s a tiny death? This is not to suggest our self-worth should be bound up in other people all the time. Far from it. But if you are in any kind of ongoing situation where you must interact with another person who refuses to acknowledge you, it’s certainly a slippery slope to hang on to your own sense of existing. Maybe? 2) Tom Stoppard is my favorite playwright.]
Shortly after this mini-epiphany (thanks to my friend), I was reading the extraordinary Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. This book is a compilation of letters and her responses from her advice column, “Dear Sugar.” Ms. Strayed’s responses are always raw and beautiful and honest and sometimes really funny! and in-your-face in the best of ways. And what really struck me and has stayed with me, even if she lovingly bops the letter-writer on the head and says, “Wake up! It’s time for a new path!”, is that she always, always, always opens her response with an acknowledgement of what the writer has been through, and she expresses concern for the writer’s very being. And in doing so, she genuinely creates a place for trust and growth.
So I have come to believe that one of the greatest forms of compassion is giving another person a moment, a word, that expresses, “I hear you. I see you.” Sometimes we just need to be heard. Sometimes all we need is for someone to hear us or really see us in the moment. Be present with us.
Sometimes it does a world of good to have your sweet son simply ask, “So how was your day?”