“I’m doing great; I just killed my mother”
When I was a teenager I figured out a fun way to answer when people asked how I was doing.
At the coffeeshop, checking out for groceries, meeting someone for the first time, they’d invariably say, “Hi, how are you?”
And I’d reply, “Terrible,” in the same dead voice we all use when we knee jerk a reply. “Fine, you?” “Great. How about yourself?”
Every once and a while someone wouldn’t notice that I’d pulled a fast one on them. They’d continue the routine as if nothing had interrupted it: “Great! So did you find everything you were looking for today? And will you be paying with cash or credit?”
It was always amusing when someone did that. Our interactions with other people can very easily drift into a sort of dull mechanicalism that’s absurd to the point it’s almost charming when you notice it. In fact my mother’s best friend in college used to reply “Great! I just killed my mother” whenever someone asked him how he was doing. Every so often people didn’t wouldn’t pay attention and they’d be a pack of college students like my mom, laughing when it happened.
Fire and forget to think
Sometimes people don’t notice the break in routine. But more often than not, they do. And with the “Terrible” trick I mentioned above, when they do noticed, they almost always laugh.
It’s at this point that I usually get a bit faux dramatic and jostle about how they’re enjoying my pain and MY GOD! what kind of terrible person are you?! etc etc etc. It’s a small gesture, in a way. I’ve had my share of bad days too and always appreciate a good laugh. I look at this particular joke as a way to lighten the mood, hopefully interrupting the mundane with at least a little bit of laughter.
The thing about this particular trick, though, one that kind of makes it boring after a while, is that you can only do it once before it loses its appeal. As soon as folks see it coming, it’s not any good any more. Fire…then it’s back to forgetting to pay any attention.
“What has been the best part of your day?”
A couple of months ago, I read great article on Medium that encouraged folks to ask “What would you like to do” instead of “What do you do?” And around the same time that I read that, I stumbled into a question that I’ve become very fond of asking people.
These days, in interactions where mechanical small talk normally carries the day, I like to ask people, “What has been the best part of your day?”
Folks tend to stumble on this question a bit when you ask them. The small talk routine breaks and a lot of times you can see people actually snapping out of the automaton state of mind and process this new question.
One person I met early on told me how they spent the morning teaching their daughter how to tie her shoes.
This other time this fellow told me about how his son had just gotten into town and was visiting from Dallas. They had breakfast together and were going to go the park later that night.
A lot of times people tell me about making and enjoying their breakfast, or this excellent cup of coffee they had before the day started, or this bread they made, or these cupcakes.
Not always. But a lot of times people tell me the best part of their day and then they turn the tables and ask me to do the same. The question’s been flipped back on me probably 100 times by now. By rights I should be expecting it. But every time it happens, I have to stop and think about it myself.
Most of the best parts of my day involve drinking coffee on the porch with my dogs or walking to Piedmont Park with Nancy. You can actually learn a lot about yourself and where you should prioritize spending your time when you get asked this question enough times.
Which I guess brings me to the part of this question that I really like.
No matter how many times you ask someone what the best part of their day has been, it never seems to lose it’s magic.
It’s not a one trick pony or a break from the routine that depends on being unexpected.
Rather, folks whose paths I’ve crossed many times and who know damn good and well that I’m going to ask them that question still pause and smile and give thoughtful answers. The answers are usually small but meaningful and shine a little light on that parts of being human that are so easy to lose sight of.
The best part of my day today was listening to the barista at Spiller Park Coffee explain how he enjoyed making eggs this morning. He’s trying to perfect a sort of crispy, paper like texture to them. So far they’re stuck between leathery and burnt, but he’s pretty sure he knows what’s wrong and he’s gonna try again tomorrow.
So, with all of that said, next time you get a chance, think about asking someone: “What’s been the best part of your day?”
And while we’re on the topic, I’d like to know what’s been the best part of yours. Feel free to comment or drop me a line. I am entirely serious when I say I’d really like to know 🙂
Photo by Matthew Wiebe, courtesy of Unsplash