Tonight my neighbor casually asked a question I’ve heard many times before and never stopped to think about: how’s life treating you?
It’s an informal greeting, by definition, though I can’t find its etymology. One thing is clear; when people say it they are asking how you are doing, not how the world is affecting you.
The world doesn’t act upon us; we are part of it. We’re like leaves floating down river, but because we are capable of swimming against the current for a time, we have the illusion of control. In the end the current always wins out and we must relax and “go with the flow”. It’s the times when we are least concerned with our environment, the people and things around us, that we are most at peace.
My sister has a degree in historic preservation and works for a historic preservation society in Boston. She spends all of her working hours trying to keep Boston’s historic buildings just as they have always been. Her job is to be concerned with the maintaining of things. She believes that by doing so, she is ensuring that an important part of who we are as a people is preserved for future generations. She believes that the world affects who we are.
But if that is true, why does it affect all of us so differently? Is it because we all experience it through a different set of eyes, ears, noses, faces, hearts and minds? Perhaps the world is truly the same for all of us, but many of us prefer to live in our own reality, one in which we are merely pawns to outside forces. At times of great tragedy we temporarily drop our barriers and for a time feel a part of a larger community and a sort of comfort comes from that, but as “security” is restored divisiveness takes hold again. The longer peace is maintained the deeper the divisions grow until they cannot withstand the pressure any longer.
At some point in all of our lives we pretend that the world controls our lives, but we know it doesn’t. We, each of us, bear the responsibility for everything that happens to us, good or bad.
So, how’s life treating me? Fine, I replied to my neighbor, unthinking. And you?
For some more entertaining responses to the question, one need look no further than Norm from Cheers:
Coach: How’s life treating you Norm?
Norm: Like I ran over its dog.
Woody: How’s life, Mr. Peterson?
Norm: Oh, I’m waiting for the movie.
Paul: Hey Norm, how’s the world been treating you?
Norm: Like a baby treats a diaper.
Sam: How’s life treatin’ ya?
Norm: It’s not Sammy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
Woody: How’s it going, Mr. Peterson?
Woody: I’m sorry to hear that.
Norm: No, I mean pour.
Sam: How’s life treating you, Norm?
Norm: Like it caught me sleeping with its’ wife.