We are all just fine

Faces reflect true emotions not spoken, and unlike much of what comes out of our mouths, expressions rarely deceive. The words, “I’m fine” are often betrayed by a slightly furrowed brow, tight lips, monotone and faintly sullen voice, and distant eyes that show we are not fine at all. But as humans, with busy and exceptionally important lives, we like to trust in these superficial words rather than prod deeper. If we decide to confront someone about the presumably forbidden territory behind the words, “I’m fine,” then an obligation presents itself. We are obligated to make sure they are okay, or worse…to assume the implicit responsibility to involve ourselves. 

To do so will interfere with our workday or personal time, right? And what about the book we were reading, the music we’re listening to, the burger we’re eating, the dog we’re walking, the girl we’re flirting with, the workout we’re doing, the text we need to send, the groceries we need to buy, or the bus we’re trying to catch? It seems so strange and inconvenient to prod deeper. To do so may perturb the very weft of traditional human interaction. 

So we do not probe deeper. We don’t want that hindrance and newfound obligation. We have things to do and places to be! And so we go about with our lives, bland in expression, bland in greeting, bland in response. We don’t really know what’s going on in the lives of those around us, but as long as they are not an inconvenience to ourselves, we don’t really care. Like hands on a clock we cannot be held up.

But why does the speaker choose these two simple words instead of telling the truth? And what is hidden beneath them? Perhaps the death of a pet or loved one, a best friend moving, a financial dilemma, a breakup, a troublesome relationship, a terminal health issue, or an innate sense of worthlessness. Yet we hold our tongues. We simply state “I’m fine” in order to avoid further conversation, though our facial expressions clearly betray these words.

And so we go about our days as “fine” creatures. The old man on the bus is fine. And the barber is fine. And the waitress. And the doctor. And the soldier. And the mailman. We can do our work, catch that bus, and get home to our family for dinner by six because everyone is okay. The words “I’m fine” have really acquired the meaning that we will “carry on.” They have become a function of productivity- the inquisitor and the responder working hand in hand, understanding and accepting the lie. We are all “fine” so that we can live our lives as surely as the hands of the clock, never to sway from steadfast routine.

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