It is incredible how slight differences in culture can make a significant impact. I’ll never forget one of my lasting memories while attending Howard University in Washington, DC. The exchange didn’t take more than a few seconds, but it left me baffled! I arrived early to class and found a comfortable seat reasonably close to the front but not under the lecturer’s nose. Instead, it was beside the window, where I could feel the breeze. I love the feel of the breeze, any breeze, despite having to brush my hair out of my face constantly. Anyway, I digress. As I settled into my seat, I noticed someone else enter the classroom. I looked up, our eyes made four, and then he asked, “How Yah Doin’?” I opened my mouth to respond, but he had already nodded his head and walked past me. After a few similar experiences, I realized that in DC, “How Yah Doin’?” wasn’t a question but a greeting… Big difference. No one was interested in a response from me other than “Hey!” So by my third year at Howard, I too greeted folks with “How Yah Doin’? and moved on.
Well, fast forward thirty-something years later amid a pandemic, I find myself asking, “How are you doing?” with a look of concern and a pause that subliminally adds the word “really”. Instinctively my patients know that this isn’t a greeting but a question of concern. I have come to respect the therapy experienced by my patients and me in taking a few minutes to acknowledge that we are in the middle of “crazy”, and it is alright to accept that. That question has allowed me to:
- rub a shoulder of a grieving spouse
- listen to heart-sinking stories of children or parents lost
- empathize with those whose jobs have disappeared as industries took a financial beating
- and to sit in silence when words would have gotten in the way
The past 19 months have felt like an emotional rollercoaster, but we have been privileged to strengthen relationships. We have bonded similarly to how soldiers who have gone to war together bond. Bonds that remind us that we are Better Together.