“How are you?” asks the questioner.

“I’m fine.” responds the questionee.

Fine.  Such an interesting word.  Granted, it has multiple meanings.  Like the one use of fine is that it’s a cost of a punishment, as in, the library fined me for returning the books late.  But the use I’m looking for is the one that means unblemished, refined, pure, free of impurities, of superior quality.  The word fine stems from the 13th century Latin word finis, meaning end, for once you’ve reach the end you can’t get any better.  At it’s very core, the word fine means something (or someone) is at its peak, the highest good, true, genuine and constant.

It’s the word used to describe fine china that your grandma would set out on the table before a nice meal and tell you to be very careful to not break anything.  Or that fine young lady you met in college that then became your wife.  Or that fine young man that is well groomed and treats others nicely.

Yet, somewhere along the line, the word fine has been abused.  Now fine can just mean ok.  As in “That restaurant was fine”.  Do you mean of superior quality, or do you mean it was just mediocre?  Or “I’m fine”.  Does that mean you’re in peak form or that you’re suffering on the inside but unwilling to let anyone know?

In the end, linguists have determined that fine is a scalable word.  Meaning that the word has many meanings.  On one end of the scale, fine can be a masked word to hide a deeper feeling.  Or, on the other end of the scale, it can mean that something is of exquisite quality and in peak form.  Ultimately, it’s up to the listener to guess what target on the scale the person is communicating, which makes it a very clunky word to express…well, express really anything.  In the end, unless you really know a person, you don’t exactly know the intent of the word they are communicating.

Ever been to public gathering?  The obligatory “Hi, how are you?” rings its chorus throughout the occasion.  And, perhaps sadly so, the impelled response echoes back “I’m fine.”  Polite conversation ensues, without ever really digging deeper on if the person is ok or not.

So, today, I ask you… “How are you?”  Granted, we’re not in a crowded public place but rather in the ethereal blogosphere.  But I still care.  I seriously want to know, how are you?  Are you fine?  What does that really mean?  Does it mean that things can’t get any better or does it mean they can’t get any worse, but you just don’t want to say?

I remember after mom died, many would ask how I was doing.  And I would hide behind the word fine for longer than I probably should have.  The truth was, I was struggling, and I was sad.  For those of you who know or remember my story, I was one of the Financial Advisors who gave my mom the green light to retire.  The guilt, the shame, that pervaded my soul was tangible.  Thoughts of changing my career littered my thoughts.  I wasn’t fine for a long time.

But, the love of my wife, my kids, my friends, my God…slowly, yet surely began to penetrate my heart.  I remembered the good times with mom and I sought to honor her legacy with my kids.  They were so young though; they don’t have many memories of her.  But they know she was a great person, a caring mother and grandmother, an endearing soul.  They know that she wasn’t fine.  They know that she suffered from depression after losing hope and purpose in the months after retiring.  They know she chose to take her life.

They know it’s not ok to suffer.

They know it’s not ok to keep your feelings bottled up so no one else can help.

They know that hiding behind the word fine is not a desired path.

So, what about you?  Are you fine?  Are you ok?  Are you on cloud nine, or barely able to pull back the covers?  Are you ready to tackle the day, or dreading the very thought of it?  Are you surrounded by those who push you up, or succumbing to those who pull you down?

Lest I be glib, I’m not saying we should air our dirty laundry to every person who asks on the face of this planet.  Boundaries are good.  But, I am asking, do you have the person where you can express your true thoughts and feelings without having to hide?  I am asking you to find someone to be vulnerable to.  Sure, it’s ok to be fine to a lot of people.  But to a select few, I’m hopeful you can be honest.

So, how are you?

Your answer matters. It matters to those who love you, it matters to me.

Your response? …

“I am ___________.”