I am fine (except when my brain is on fire)

When I was a kid, I was that student that everyone either hated or made fun of. The one who always raised their hand to answer the question. Raised it high. Always. Sometimes waving it if the teacher was foolish enough to seat me in the back of the class since I was a late bloomer in the height department (but unfortunately not in the shoe size department, but that is another story). I loved answering questions. Not simply, of course. Where would the fun be in that? Even at seminary my answers were long and asked additional questions of the professor. Usually in the final minutes of class. My classmates gave me an award at graduation for this practice. I still have the certificate somewhere in that box we all have of silly things that we will never throw away.

But now I get asked “How Are You?” all the time. Asked by caring people who really want to know the answer. And I have answered the question a hundred times. A thousand times. And I still suck at it. Still struggle to finds the right approach. To answer it honestly without sounding dismissive (fine) or robotic (you know, I take it day by day) or the false optimist (Well, good days outnumber the bad). Especially, I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is. In my line of work I minister to people in great suffering. People who are dying or grieving loved ones who have died. People whose marriages have imploded or whose kids fight demons or who struggle to fight off bill collectors determined to shut off their power and power and take food out of the mouths of their children.  My suffering, frankly, isn’t anything compared to theirs. It just is what it is, as they say.

My latest incarnation of an answer goes something like this: I am fine (except when my brain is on fire). That’s what it feels like when the headaches and fatigue are settling in for a quiet but not so cozy afternoon. And the fire moves to my face and even though the house is cold, I turn down the thermostat and my wife puts on another sweater. I have no idea what the experience of menopause is like, but as they say, now I see in a mirror dimly. Hot and cold. Headaches and body aches. Upset stomach. Up at strange hours unable to sleep. Except I have no clue if it is the auto-immune disease playing havoc or the medicine for it playing havoc. Or the sun playing havoc with either the disease or from the sensitivity to the sun that its medicine creates. Or the depression playing havoc or the medicines for that playing havoc. Or just aging. Or something else. No. Bloody. Clue.

Most of the time it seems like there is nothing wrong. Like the doctor made a mistake. Like this is all in my head. Then my head reminds me otherwise. Or my knees or hip or some joint or another. The secret is as I tell the middle schoolers during career day every single year, I have the best job in the world, which helps tremendously. And more importantly, I have the most amazing wife who after 25 years knows me better than I know myself. Every night I lay down beside her and know that however the day may have been, that all is well in my world. And God is there somewhere in the thick of things.  The God who suffered. The God who bears our exotic mix of faith, of belief and unbelief, of questions seeking answers, of hope and trust, of our slow but inevitable journey to mix our sense of awe and wonder with the right amount of humility.

And so my friends, I am fine (except when my brain is on fire). And mostly it isn’t, so there’s that.

And tomorrow is another day.


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