Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017


HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.




Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”


“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.


CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Beyond a surface question February 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I converted this image to black-and-white and upped the brightness. This was shot on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown.

Sometimes travel through life is easy. Clear vistas. Clear vision. Sunshine and goodness. But other times life isn’t good. Storms and challenges prevail. Yet, the question remains the same, “How are you?” Do you answer honestly, or do you pretend all is fine? (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from March 2012, photographed along Minnesota State Highway 19 just north of Vesta.)

“HOW ARE YOU?” I dislike that question. It’s trite and mostly a meaningless nicety.

Does anyone really want an honest answer?

When I’ve failed to respond with the expected “good,” eyes shift downward, feet fidget, uncomfortableness wedges in.

What if I’m not good? What if life isn’t great and fine and wonderful? Then what?

I will tell you I’m OK. And, if you’re listening, you may pause. Worry may fleet across your face. But, if you’re like most people, you won’t push. You’ll walk away.

Recently I told a friend I didn’t like the “How are you?” question. So now, whenever we see each other, she says, “It’s good to see you.” I like that. Those words are warm and welcoming and, because I know my friend, genuine.

Perhaps we all ought to try being a little more genuine with one another. Caring beyond casual surface conversation. Picking up on cues that maybe everything isn’t alright. And then, listening. Really listening.

If you ask the question “How are you?”, ask because you truly care. Not just to make polite conversation.


© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling