Someone new started working at the coffee shop where I write after work. Her genuine friendliness exposed my meager social skills. She would always smile and guide me through brief conversations. After a few days of this, I greeted her and didn’t get quite that same feeling from her. Now here are some rather unfortunate insights into my mind. I immediately thought she was annoyed with having to nurse me along through small talk every time I came in for my coffee. I started to feel bad about myself and so I turned that onto her. Why was her patience so limited? Had she made enough friends and no longer had any incentive to be friendly with someone who didn’t meet her impossibly high standards of being able to smile and hold up his end of a conversation?
These thoughts happened at a nearly subconscious level, and then I snapped out of it and thought that maybe something was wrong, so I said, “Are you alright?” She turned to me and nearly started to cry. Her best friend had been in a serious car accident. He would make a full recovery, but at that time, he was hospitalized in intensive care. Instead of small talk, the next times I saw her I asked about her friend and she kept me updated through his recovery. I imagine her having to come in that day, working a new job with this personal tragedy weighing heavily on her mind and probably, not knowing anyone very well, intent on keeping it to herself. On another day or in another moment, I might have passed on by without asking. Instead that moment led to a friendship. By doing something easy, something I could stand to do more of: simply listening and caring. Just asking, “Are you alright?”
There is a song by Lucinda Williams called “Are You Alright?” The first time I heard it, I have to admit, I found it trite. It’s lyrically simple, with the title being repeated over and over, alternating with single lines. But as the melody repeats and the drums kick in, as she keeps asking, you start to feel like she actually cares. It feels nice to be asked, “Are you alright?” It feels nice to ask, “Are you alright?”