Thursday, 16 January 2014


How are you?
A simple enough phrase heard so many times each and every day. Along with its equally banal cousins, “How’s it going?” and “What’s up?” it is generally followed by a range of similarly empty responses, “Fine thanks.” “Not bad.” and “Not much.”
Repetitive words with little meaning.
My father had it right.  He had little time for such trivial interactions.  An archetypical academic, my bicycle-riding, tweed jacket-sporting father would simply ask of any friend, grocer or stranger he happened to cross paths with,
“And you, are you happy?”
There was never any lead up to this intimate interrogation.  No introductory “Good morning” or “It’s so nice to meet you.”  He would simply open with the most essential of questions,
“And you, are you happy?”
Whether face to face on the street, through a long distance phone call or in later years, by  emails punched out on his boxy 1980’s Toshiba laptop, the experience was the same.  The phone would ring, and as you brought the receiver to your ear, you would hear his succinct British lilt.
“And you, are you happy?”       
Five little words, profoundly strung together, uttered across a crackling wire.
“And you, are you happy?”
In college, my roommates were taken aback at first. They didn’t quite know what to make of this curious query. I would amusedly watch them stumble as they tried to decide how to respond.  
Were they?
What does one answer when forced by a stranger to examine your heart?
But over time they got to know his routine and soon enough were bantering playfully with him before thrusting the phone at me and proclaiming,
“It’s your Dad.”
He was a man who loved words.  An English professor and author, he could lecture on many a topic.  And yet in his greetings, he kept it simple.  Kept it to that most important of questions,
“And you, are you happy?”
At the time, I don’t think I understood the depth of his statement.  That he was rooting to the essence of what matters.  I naively chalked it up to his endearing eccentricity along with his fridge full of homemade chutneys and his determination to bring back the appeal of the cravat.
Speaker, Lenny Ravich, suggests that the only appropriate answer to the question “How are you?” is to declare,
“This is my best moment.   There is no other moment.”
Lenny goes on to say that if you try this, two things will happen.
1.     You will finally confirm to others that you have completely lost your mind.
2.     You will begin to feel and see life differently.
I’ve been trying it out.  My first attempt fell flat. I came home at the end of the day and when my husband greeted me with his usual “How are you?”  I quickly exclaimed,
“This is my best moment!  There is no other moment!”
He promptly burst out laughing at the combination of my latest insanity and my blatant insincerity.  I couldn’t help but laugh too at the outward silliness of it all, but paused for just a second in a moment of new awareness.
Somewhere in me, something flickered.
Months before his scheduled retirement, my father died.  Although I was 28 at the time I think of it as the moment that thrust me unwillingly into adulthood.  It was a moment that knocked me off my feet as I somatized my sorrow and spent endless nights seeking comfort in his old blanket. He was taken by a series of unexpected heart attacks.  Unexpected by me, though I wonder how long he knew his less than healthy lifestyle was taking a toll.  Though some choose to bury it, the loss of a parent hits hard regardless of the relationship as it represents the end of what was, and what we wished that fundamental parent-child union had been. Through the year of grief that followed, as I leaked tears and stumbled through the obligatory normalcy of daily life, I somehow forgot his unusual greeting. 
It was only years later that my daughter reminded me.
My youngest daughters never met their grandfather.  It is a sadness I will carry always.  He would have so enjoyed their sense of play, and I will never know the things they might have learned from him.  He will never pluck and hand them a fresh plum from his garden. He will never tell them fantastical Shakespearean bedtime stories and they will never fully grasp how they came to be.  And yet, somehow-
I had come home from a long day at work and my ten year old daughter rushed to greet me.  She silently watched as I danced around the porch, struggling to take off my snow boots without touching my socks on the cold wet floor. Out of the blue she asked,
“How about your day, did you like it?”
I froze and looked at her, flashing back to another loved one who so often asked me a similar essential question. I caught my breath, and confidently answered.
“This is my best moment.  There is no other moment.”  I grinned.
For finally I understood.


  1. This post touched my heart and reminded me of my own father! Thank you Maia!

  2. Anyone with a 'British lilt' should know better than to start any sentence with a conjunction!! But teasing aside, as always you've hit the nail on this head with this short essay. Well done! Also, and I know this is just an aside, but your two youngest girls still manage to shock me with their out-of-the-blue wisdom. I guess the apple doesn't fall far form the tree ;)