The Power of Four

The other day I received a text from a high school friend that simply said: “are you doing okay?”  With no inkling as to what had precipitated his communication, I responded by saying, “why do you ask?”, effectively responding to his four little words with four of my own – all of which were powerful and, for some reason, overwhelming.   A genuinely good guy who knows that there is a lot happening in these parts was warmly reaching out and letting me know that he was thinking of me and I simply didn’t know how to respond.  Having grown so used to things being so complicated, I was tripped up by the brevity and simplicity of it all.  I could have laid it all out which would have likely reduced me to tears (something I do a lot, often for no good reason) or just kept it short and sweet.  I opted for the latter. Despite my extensive texting,  this one stopped me in my tracks.  Literally.  I was walking (into a shoe store – I was obsessed with finding the perfect black wedges which, I am happy to say, I found!) when it arrived and I halted to re-read it thinking I had missed the beginning of a conversation or something.  I hadn’t.  It was just an old friend letting me know he was thinking of me.  Four little words.

People are always asking me how I am doing (while secretly counting their blessing that they are not me) and I, in turn, attempt to respond with enough honesty that I feel okay, but not so much that the inquirer feels like they have opened a slowly healing wound.  So, as I did with the text, I usually keep it short and sweet.  Everyone has crap to deal with – they don’t need mine on top of it.  And while my unusual set of circumstances would leave only the most heartless among us devoid of curiosity,  people still aren’t sure where, when and how to tread but that text nailed it.  When I heard the familiar ding-a-ling notification coming from my phone I assumed it would be an inquiry of one sort or another from someone or another.  But as it populated my little screen it communicated, in just four little words, a message of sincerity and warmth that I had not even realized I craved.  That is not to suggest that people I see regularly are insincere, rather it is more often than not that their outreach is more related to happenstance than actively thinking of what I am experiencing at this moment in my life.   This is not a judgment – on the contrary as I am as guilty (if not more so) as the next guy of getting so caught up in my own issues that I lose sight of the things that other people are grappling with.   The sender of the text has had plenty of his own issues to deal with and I admit, with my head hung in shame, that I haven’t initiated much of our communication of late.  I respond to his calls and his texts (which, I am ashamed to admit, I cannot say about all outreach), but I now realize that it was he who took the time to get out of himself and reach out to me.  Given who he is, I think it is safe to say that I am not the only person he is randomly texting just to be sure they are “doing okay”.  He’s just that kind of guy.

I really try not to be self absorbed or to wallow in the issues which threaten to splay my gray matter all over my immediate vicinity, but I now realize that I might be kinda blowing it.  Naming no names, I think often about my dear friend who worries how her children are going to make it in the world.  I often want to hug my always smiling friend whose daughter has, at the tender age of eleven, had cancer twice.  And my amazing bestie who has had more tragedy and death in her family than any one person should have to bear.  (We have a sick little competition as to who has the most shit to deal with.  That is part of why I love her.)  She’s on my mind, too.  Friends with aging and ailing parents or with children struggling with yet to be diagnosed issues, and those just in a shitty place for any number of reasons…they are all with me, but when I got an unexpected text with just four little words I realized that those friends probably don’t know that my heart is with them and I do wonder about them:  “Are you doing okay?”

The evening following the text, I was going out for a long overdue dinner with four women from disparate parts of my life: my bestest friend since sixth grade, my two closest mommy friends from when our oldest children started school and Harrison’s girlfriend’s mother who quickly became a dear friend when we realized that we share a brain (it’s a private joke, she gets it).  They have all met over the years, but this was the first time the five of us had managed to get together despite having been discussing it for years.  Under the auspices of celebrating my birthday (which was nearly two months ago) we finally solidified a plan.  A few hours before dinner, still appreciating the unexpected text I had gotten the day before, I was overcome with a need to let each of them know how grateful I am for the support they have shown me over the past several months (um, years is more accurate, actually.)  I put together little gift bag for each of them and was moved to tears as I watched each of them be, well, moved to tears.  In place of the four little words I had been given – “are you doing okay?” – were four little items:

Socks for their having kept me feeling warm and grounded.

Gummy Bears in the shape of the alphabet for spelling things out while keeping it sweet.

Reusable ice cubes for the times I need (or caused them to need) a drink.

A toy gun for use against me, a spouse, a child or an in-law…whomever they deemed worthy.

It, like the text, did not take me a long time to do, but it came from the heart.  I wish I could make a gift bag like that for all the people in my life who deserve them.  Or would like them.  Or need them.  A little goes a long way, boys and girls.

So whether you text, call, send a note, or make a little goody bag know that it can take as few as four words or items to make someone’s day.  What are your four?

Oh, and here are the shoes…you know you wanted to see them:

31 thoughts on “The Power of Four

  1. Cute,comfy shoes…And I also am a fan of those four words.How are you doing? It always seems so right in this world where we often have so little time for others outside of our own busy lives…Nice post!

  2. Whenever I think your posts can’t get any better or more touching, make me cry or me finding things that I can relate to, along comes a post like this that manages to do all 4. I love you, your blog and so happy that I can call you a friend! Let’s pick a night to go out so can both wear our great shoes!

  3. I’ve been away for a while, so there’s been a lot of catching up to do, but now I’m finally there (I think), and able to say how incredibly well-timed this post has been.

    I often find myself wishing there were people out there who need no reason other than Just Being Brilliant to make my day in the smallest way… no more so than recently, now I’m on my way to transitioning medically. (And it usually turns out to be the excellent people I’ve encountered through blogging who take the time to do so… but that’s not the point.) I can’t agree more with That Feeling that you’ve described so well: just how much it’s appreciated when it happens, even though you’re not consciously aware that you needed it.

    Also, just to mention that I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award (posted here: This probably won’t be the first time, but it’s there nonetheless!

    (The Occasionally Loud-Mouthed Transperson)

  4. Good post, Julie…well written. So true that we all need to get out of our own little bubbles at times and check in with others. Four little words (or however many) can go a long way.

    You can keep those new shoes, but maybe toss the oh-so-fun-looking Number 4 Piñata my way, so I can bat out some of my daily frustrations? Or…just bring it to the block party.

  5. You know, I was really moved reading this. I have a friend who is going through a very hard time and she reached out to me earlier in the week. We had a nice conversation but you’ve made me think, I should also get her a little something extra for when I see her tomorrow to put a smile on her face. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate the little things!

    Also, I think you are fabulous for sharing this journey, difficult as it is, with others.

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