We all have questions that we should have asked years ago. Questions to colleagues, friends, family, strangers sitting next to us on subways and even ourselves. Our fear of what the answer may be kept us from engaging. Not only the answer, but what it may require of us.
I should have asked the question years ago. I wondered, implied and then ignored. And yet the question loomed for years unasked – floating like this cloud of possibility.
It was these very possibilities I was afraid of. What if the question leads to a revelation and the revelation leads to something I’m not prepared to handle.
My friend had a rough childhood – parts of it were common knowledge. The divorce, the financial challenges, the things that couldn’t be hidden or concealed. And yet, I always thought that maybe there was more. Suggestions of darker things popped up on occasion but they were quickly swept away with a lighthearted change of subject.
In my gut I recognized not everything was alright. There was no proof or tearful confession. Just a feeling after phone calls and lunches that there was something I didn’t know. Digging questions were on the tip of my tongue numerous times, but I always swallowed them for fear I would cross a line I couldn’t uncross.
What if I am wrong? What if I make everything awkward or offend her? Even worse, what if I am right? What would I do if there was abuse or dark secrets she carried?
Years later I would find out that my intuition was right. Sexual abuse from a family friend, physical and emotional abuse from her family was being hidden behind her bright white All-American smile. I was grateful when she told me, honored that she would trust me with the secret she has carried for all these years.
Tears welled up in my eyes for the questions I never asked.
The world needs us to ask the question because they are dying to share the load with someone. To feel even an ounce less alone in their pain.
Are you okay?
To the stranger crying on the bench making everyone feel uncomfortable. To the girl struggling with depression sending cryptic tweets. To the parent whose son received a gut-wrenching diagnosis. To the child that has been abused. To the friend we’ve known our whole lives.
Are you okay? Because we care. Really we do. Maybe we haven’t met before. But you have pain and we can see it. We may not know what to do when you tell us what it is and our awkward pause may make us squirm a bit. The hug we offer may seem like a weak attempt to show that we actually do care.
My money is on the likelihood we won’t know the right thing to say when you tell us, but it’s alright because you aren’t in it alone anymore. Our friendship won’t fix all the pain, but we will pray with you and hold your hand when you are nervous about your first counseling appointment. Hey, we’ll even drive you there. So, we want to know. Are you okay?
Maybe they will say ” No, I’m fine”. At least they know we cared enough to ask. And if there is something they ever want to share one day, they will know a safe place to go.
Because that’s what we should be for each other. Safe places to unload the dark secrets that hurt too much to carry alone. Dealing with mild insecurity or crippling histories of abuse – we all need shoulders to rest on and people brave enough to listen.
Go ahead and step up. Be the brave one. Ask the question and listen to what needs to be said.
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