This week, I learned from a friend from the Tlinget Tribe that they do not have a word for “hello.” In fact, their greetings are questions: “‘Wa’a sa’ sh teedinook’ sounds a little like “Washesh tee teenook.’ ‘Wa’a s’as i yatee’ is more like ‘wasays ih-yatay.’ The first is ‘how are you feeling.’ The second is ‘how are you doing?’”
A window opened: no wonder she is an amazing therapist and friend. We talked about how it speaks mountains about Tlinget culture that their greeting translates into an expression of curiosity and caring.
In 2020, asking anyone “how are you?” can feel awkward. When asked, I often think to myself, “well, how are ‘we?’” I’m tempted not to say much.
In reference to a tragic loss, another friend shared with me this week, “We’re all swimming in this weird broth together already.” In other words, at baseline, things are hard in 2020. Then sometimes things get immeasurably harder.
A friend and colleague recently taught me the term, “stacked stress.” We were talking about intersectionality, historical grief and racialized trauma during a pandemic. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2019/09/11/feature/how-activist-rachel-cargle-built-a-business-by-calling-out-racial-injustices-within-feminism/
There’s simply no “2020 lite.”
A fourth friend and colleague, I recently had the honor of watching dance with his family. I’ve seen him perform many times. This time, Danza Azteca’s blessing was at @MinnesotaCommunityCare, our community health center at the epicenter of Minnesota’s COVID response. I cried big, engulfing tears straight into our weird broth, like garlic melting in soup.
I am so grateful for these spontaneous offerings in empathy, shared struggle, and individual loss.
I just called the results hotline for my son’s COVID test, and as she asked for his date of birth, a dog barked. I laughed. She apologized. I told her I liked it. She described her worksite to me: puppy on a pillow next to her watching a squirrel outside, hot coffee, her daughter making breakfast. She told me she’s been home since March and will be until at least December at least. She likes it. I told her I work from home now too. She was no longer a hotline. We started our ritual over with a completely new feeling. She asked me for the date on which my precious baby was born. I offered: April 11, 20xx. She said “no detection of disease.” I sighed. And there we were, strangers buoying each other in a global pandemic.
We have all witnessed so much grief and so much love in each another this year, I think we’re a bit stunned. The underlying coping reminds me of when babies are so tired, their playtime giggles devolve into gulping tears before they shut down and fall deeply asleep. Only we’re grown ups, so we keep swimming together in our weird broth.
The Tlinget’s linguistic legacy teaches us to greet one another with inquiry: how are you feeling? Today, I feel grateful to have learned that my capacity to hold your answers gets stronger with every story you share with me.
Keep asking, keep sharing and keep swimming, friends.