My grampa is not with us any more, he is been really sick last week and now it’s all over. I don’t know what I’ll do now he’s dead, since he was always my best friend. I really don’t know why I’m tellin you all this, but you seem like it’s ok to do.
If you get nothing else out of my feeble words, please remember my next sentence because I believe your grandfather would want you to know this:
You’re going to be okay.
Now, I don’t know how long this process will take. And I don’t know when it will begin. But the main thing to know is that today is not the end.
When I was your age, after my father died, I made a weird discovery about people. You’re going to think this is absolutely ridiculous, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. And I do this for a very important reason. To meet my total word count.
As a kid I noticed that whenever people asked other people how they were doing, they always answered from a list of five basic responses.
So let’s pretend someone asks you the following question:
“How are you?”
Take a moment to think about how you might answer this question right now. Within our culture, here are the five basic answers:
—Not too good.
—Doin’ pretty good.
These are deceptively simple responses, but they’re deeper than you might think. And the reason I share these with you is because I suspect you land somewhere on this informal scale right now.
Let’s start with the first: “Not too good.”
This is the most uncommon response. Which is a shame, because it’s often the truth.
When someone asks how you’re doing, people rarely EVER answer, “Not too good.” We humans are proud creatures. We’re taught to soldier forward and refuse to admit weakness.
Which is why I’m so grateful for your message. You are openly admitting that you’re not doing so hot right now. I think this is healthy. And I think you’re pretty brave.
The next emotional state is: “I’m fine.”
This is the trickiest of them all. Because the words “I’m fine” are almost always total bull. Nobody is ever fine.
For example, I’ll bet your mom has been asking you how you’re doing lately. And I’ll bet 50 bucks you’ve been answering, “I’m fine.”
You’re not alone. EVERYONE always says their fine when they aren’t. In fact, I know some people who would insist they were “fine” even if their house were on fire and the IRS were confiscating their kidneys.
After my father’s funeral, I told everyone I was fine. I even convinced myself that I was fine. Years later, I realized I’d actually been wrangling with depressive problems until my mid-20s.
But here’s the truly great news. One day, when you get through your “fineness,” do you know what emotional state comes next?
That’s right. Okayness.
To me, there is no better term in the English language than “okay.” Although a strong contender would be “hickory smoked.”
Okayness is what we’re all shooting for. It is the most precious pursuit of life. The great thing about okayness is that it’s mellow. It’s not the kind of unrestrained euphoria advertised on the Hallmark Channel. It’s a middle-of-the-road feeling. Laid back, easy. A man can live a rich, full life by simply being okay.
The next emotional level is “pretty-goodness.”
Personally, I have only attained pretty-goodness twice in my life. Once was at a Willie Nelson concert.
The other time was when I was on a cruise ship, and it’s a long story. But I was standing on the main deck, overlooking miles of Mexican coastline, and my wife asked how I was doing. I smiled and said, “Pretty good.”
And I realized this was the first time since I was your age that I had ever said those words.
It was a pretty good day.
There is, however, one level higher than pretty-goodness on my patented scale. This is the “I’m great” level. This is such a high degree of joy that some people aren’t sure if it’s real. But trust me, it exists.
The “I’m great” experience happens when you feel so overwhelmed by the mystery of material existence that you can hardly speak. A single experience like this will change your life forever. It happened to me once. And once was enough.
I was standing on top of a mountain where the ashes of my late father rest. I hadn’t been to my father’s mountain grave in 25 years because… Well, let’s just say I didn’t have the greatest childhood.
On top of that peak, something happened. Something in the wind touched me. Something in the snow. Something in the sunlight.
Within seconds I felt a lifetime of bitterness drip away like hot wax. I cried while overlooking an endless serene mountainscape, and I could swear I felt the gentle spirit of my late father somewhere nearby.
When a random hiker approached me, he saw me weeping. He said, “Sir? Are you okay?”
I turned to him, saltwater rolling down my face, and my words sounded like they were coming from someone else’s mouth. “I’m great,” I said.
One day, friend, you will stand on a similar mountain. And you will rediscover the tangible love of those you have lost. This love will swirl around you like a dust storm. You will wear a watery smile and feel joy so overwhelming that it will crush your chest.
This might happen 25 years from now; it might happen tomorrow. But when it occurs, you’ll know that no matter what the world hurls at you, no matter how badly life hurts, you’re going to be okay.