My phone rang late on a Wednesday night. My oldest friend, a girl I’ve known since I was five years old, was sobbing on the other end. “Jennifer!” I said, “What’s wrong?” She told me her mother was going into the hospital for tests and she was scared. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Everything will be okay.”
Everything was not okay. Two days later, Jen called again. Her mother had been diagnosed with liver cancer, very advanced. She was strangely calm this time. “Don’t worry, Jen,” I said. “Everything will be okay.”
Everything was not okay. Only one week later, her mother was gone. Jen sounded so tired when she told me, as if worry and grief had simply drained the energy out of her. I couldn’t tell her everything would be okay. I couldn’t even tell her I was sorry. There didn’t seem to be anything to say.
I’ve been lucky; I’ve never experienced that kind of grief. I hear people say that after something like that happens, there isn’t really anything anyone can say to comfort them, that words just sound empty. I didn’t want to burden my friend by pretending to offer her false consolation. So I simply didn’t say anything. I just cried with her and hoped that would be enough. Looking back, I don’t think it was. I should have said something. At that moment, the most painful moment of her life, the moment when nothing mattered anymore, I should have told her that everything would be okay.
I used to dismiss those words immediately when my mother said them to me while I panicked about a troubled relationship or what to do with the rest of my life. They sounded so weak, so thoughtless, repeated so often that they didn’t mean anything anymore. Now I understand what they are. They are a prayer. They are a statement of faith, much more than a wish, a hope, a plea, or a vague, feeble apology for my inability to help someone I love. Just the ridiculous, illogical belief that in troubled times, when we feel helpless, scared, or just weary of the daily work of living, that it all means something, that we have not been forgotten and that our pain will be atoned, that a better future will come, even if we can’t imagine it at the moment. That’s why those four words are what we say in response to crises big and small, and why we have to say them so often, so that we won’t forget.
I wish at that terrible moment, when my tired friend told me her lovely mother had passed away, I’d said them, sent that small, yearning prayer out into the world. Because it was at that moment I realized that I believe that someday, somehow, everything will be okay.
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