Monday, January 31, 2011

A Simple Question

"How are you?" She asked what I am sure she thought was a simple question, but really, are any questions about people all that simple?

I'm not sure what came over me, but come to think of it, I usually answer that question honestly. Maybe that's the problem.

I remember one time I was in a depressed funk and a dear friend of mine saw me making my jewelry at a local coffee house. He asked me how I was doing, and without a smile, I looked up and said with a shrug, "I'm alright." He thought that the world was about to end. He said it was the first time he ever saw me without a smile, and that he had never heard me say that I was anything less than "fantastic". Just his heartfelt concern was enough to cheer me up that afternoon.

But this morning I had said my prayers, and I tossed in a couple of extra prayers for teaching. My work with the cluster growth committee had been tough of late, and I wasn't sure where I was going with it, so I decided that some good heart to heart teaching should really cheer me up. And so when this lady asked me how I was, I answered, "I'm very concerned."

She looked at me with a puzzled expression,and asked, "About what?"

"About the urgent needs of this period in human history," I said, without a moment's thought.

She just stared at me, unsure if I was serious or not. As you know, dear Reader, I was.

"I mean, come on," I continued, "how many of us are aware of the means for addressing these issues? Nowhere near enough. We try all sorts of silly solutions and things just keep getting worse."

"What do you mean?" It seemed that this actually intrigued her. Wow. Now I was surprised. And I told her so. Nothing like honesty. It really is the best policy.

Oh, but before I continue, time for a tangent, a totally unrelated story that I just feel like telling.

I was recently at the Unit Convention and a friend of mine talked about teaching in terms that I could understand. He said, "Imagine you know the best place in the world for a bowl of soup, and one day a friend of yours says that they're really in the mood for a good bowl of soup. You sit there and say, 'Yeah, good soup', but don't tell them about that place. Now, when you see your friend a few months later and they say, 'Wow, I just found a great place for soup,' and you say, 'Oh yeah, I've known about that place for months', they're going to look at you and say, 'You jerk. Why didn't you tell me about it.'"

That reminded of a time shortly after I became a Baha'i. I was working in this bookstore and there was this guy who would regularly come in. He would always ask me for recommendations, like "Is there a good fantasy novel you can recommend?" Or "Is there a good mystery book I should read?" But one afternoon he came in and said, "Are there any good books I should read today?" I think it was the first time he ever gave me an open field like that. Now, I have to tell you, the Feast was just the night before, so I was thinking a lot about teaching that day, and when my friend asked me that question, I could hear the Concourse on High singing out "This is your chance" in 28-part harmony. I took a deep breath and said, "Well, actually there is, but you can't get it at this bookstore. It's about a man named 'Abdu'l-Baha."

My friend looked surprised and said, "Oh, are you a Baha'i?"

Now it was my turn to be surprised. "Uhm, yes, I am."

"Me, too. Allah'u'Abha!"

And like my friend at the unit convention guessed, I replied, "You jerk. How come you never told me about the Faith?" After that, we became even closer friends and joked about it for years.

Oh, and a few years later, he invited me to his children's class, what we would now call more like a junior youth group. He dropped me off while he drove around for another 10 minutes. I went in and asked if the kids if he had shown up yet. "No, we're just waiting for him," was their reply.

"He told me to meet him here. Do you mind if I wait?"

"Yeah, sure," they said, without any enthusiasm, and continued to talk amongst themselves.

"So, what kind of group is this?" I thought I would give them an opportunity.

"It's a Baha'i children's class," they said, and went back to talking with each other.

"Baha'i? What's that?" I'd always wanted to ask that, but somehow never had the chance before then.

One of them turned back to me and said, "It's a religion," and turned away again.

"What kind of religion?" I wasn't going to let them off that easy.

"We like world peace." And then he fell silent again.

By that point my friend walked in and asked me, "So, how'd they do?"

I laughed and said, "Oh, they were awful."

The kids were shocked. "Hey", they protested, "we didn't know it was a test."

My friend and I then told them about how we had met, and how he had never mentioned the Faith to me until after I had declared and tried to teach him. We spent the entire class talking about seizing opportunities, and how life itself is a test.

And that, dear Reader, brings me back to today.

"How are you" is such a great opening for a meaningful conversation, and the way we respond to it can lead it in so many directions. Or it can just close the door and become nothing more than a breath of warm air on a cold afternoon.

For now, I have to get back to that conversation with my new friend and continue exploring some of the means for addressing those problems facing us today.

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