"Write a post about how whenever you're worried about something, people say really annoying things like, 'It will be fine,'" my friend implored me months ago, when her oldest child was going off to college, and she was having a lot of anxiety about it. I've been thinking about it ever since, but haven't had the right words, the right frame-of-mind, the right space to ponder why that's such a universal response and yet so universally not-reassuring, but actually the opposite.
Brene Brown says that the difference between empathy and sympathy, is empathy never starts a sentence with, "At least..." I think that's the problem with "It will be fine," it lacks empathy. It's a pat answer, and dismisses all the layers and layers of any emotional response or anxiety.
I hate when I'm all fired up about something and my husband says something inflammatory like, "Just don't worry about it." While its true that my worrying might not be productive, there is no "just" not doing it.
That is not to say that we don't have ultimate control over our responses, and we always can choose an alternative response or emotion, but that takes a lot of practice and hard work. I don't know about you, but when you're in the eye of the storm, it's very, very difficult to do additional practice and hard work. It's only after you've come through the storm, or at least the worst part, and made a fragile peace with the storm, that you can roll up your sleeves and get to work, in preparation for the next storm that life throws your way.
The other problem with "It will be fine" is we think "fine" means things will work out just the way we hope and pray they will. If they don't, we don't think things are "fine," they are, in fact, anything but fine. Again, it is usually only in hindsight that we have any kind of perspective on the "fineness" of how things "worked out," and that may take more than one lifetime to be revealed.
I am writing this on my own son's half birthday. In exactly six months he will be 18. While he and we are "fine" now, there is great anxiety about what will happen in his future. Where will he live? Where will he work? Will he be safe? What happens when we die? Will he ever have the family of his own that he talks about constantly? Will it all be "fine?" And what must we do to pre-pave and make it so? It's much easier to believe in "fine" when you're working your ass off to make it so.
The only thing to do is support each other as we trudge through, waiting for "fine." We must offer our help, our shoulders, our listening ears, as we hold space with one another through the un-fine parts. We must be empathetic without being sympathetic, never minimizing another's situation and struggle, but walking along side them through the deep end, until they can climb out and be "fine."
Carrie is a parent and advocate of a child with special needs and even more special gifts. She blogs at http://carrielink.blogspot.com/ where this is pretty much her favorite topic. Carrie’s book, WIL OF GOD: Embracing the Relentless Love of a Special Child, is available in print on Amazon and all e-readers.