Elmo, the red shag rug Muppet from Sesame Street, inadvertently set off a firestorm by asking an innocent question; "How is everybody doing?"
The puppet's social media account on "X" formerly known as Twitter, was inundated with hundreds of responses from people who admitted to feeling anxious, gloomy, and full of despair. Too bad Elmo admits he’s too young to actually read the heartbreaking replies.
After I absorbed the bleakness of the situation, my first question was, "Why are a half-million grown adults following Elmo on X?”
The puppet's "How is everybody doing" inquiry is the equivalent of our Southern, "Hey, how's your mama-n-'em?" It's meant as a polite greeting and not usually intended to trigger a list of ailments.
One reply on X was, "Elmo, I'm suffering from existential dread over here." Others commented how sad they felt or how they hated waking up in the morning. The floodgate of despair opened, and Americans poured their worries, anxieties, and depression onto the puppet. From rising monthly rent to hating their jobs, the responses were so troubling that Sesame Street officials finally felt obligated to provide a link to real mental health resources (as opposed to the pink-haired therapist who set up shop on the corner of Sesame Street and Big Bird Avenue).
My understated thought for the month was, "Pouring your heart out to an eternal 3-year-old pretend furry monster is a sign that Americans are in a bad place." Ya' think?
Mental health issues are no laughing matter. People are dealing with stress and self-medicating themselves to the point of numbness. Our country has a genuine crisis for people of all ages. Sadly, Granny's solution of sitting in a church pew and playing outside in the fresh air doesn't seem realistic to most Americans.
As long as we’re reaching out to pretend characters for help, I recommend my favorite pretend therapist in Chicago, Bob Hartley, (look him up, youngsters, the groovy theme song alone is worth it), let's just remember a simple truth; we are blessed to live in a beautiful place where people care about one another.
When we use our slow drawls to ask how someone is doing, we're not thrown off guard if they say, "Terrible." We know we don't have to fake our concerns or take them a casserole right away, but a sincere "I'm so sorry. I hope things get better for you" is sometimes all it takes. We're good at sympathy because we share their sadness. It hurts when the neighbors lose their father because we remember when he took us to Dauphin Island and roasted hot dogs around a fire. It's a small-town connection, even though the smallness is fading away.
My northern husband grew up surrounded by a bit of gruffness, but his heart of gold is pure, and yet, I still had to instruct him that sometimes, all I need to hear from him after I dump "woes du jour" on him is a "poor baby." He had difficulty pronouncing a sincere "bless your heart," so I'll take what I can get.
When we ask, "How are you doing?" we need to remember their "fine, thanks" response could be hiding, "I'm lonely," or "I'm drowning in debt," or "I just found out my pearls are fake." Everyone has a burden to bear, and we never know what difficult situation someone is going through.
Southerners are especially good at hiding behind smiles, but we're also good at hand-holding and blurting out the best thing ever, "I'll be praying for you, honey." You can tell who is sincere by the glimmer of God's love in their eyes.
We're not ashamed or afraid to express our concern for others. Taking care of "our people" feels like our responsibility and privilege.
It may have taken a puppet to remind us, but our hometown addresses of Magnolia Street, Grits Avenue, and Humidity Boulevard, can be much more supportive places than Sesame Street. Good Southern neighbors can help us carry the heavy load. Thanks for the reminder to check on our people, Elmo, and bless your heart, we’re fine, thanks.
This story first appeared in Lagniappe News, Mobile, AL
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