Jennifer Cassata

"When I asked my senior, 'Are you okay?' it was something she had heard me ask a gazillion times. However, this was so not one of those times."

Jennifer Cassata with her daughter, Bridget

I ask the question, “Are you okay?” a lot. Trust me, it’s a lot.

Just ask my family and friends. I have a compulsion to know if there is something I can be doing to help my people. It is also a filler question for when I don’t know what to say but want to keep the conversation going. It is one of my personal tics.

So, on the afternoon of March 23, when I asked my daughter, a senior in high school, “Are you okay?” it was something she had heard me ask a gazillion times before. However, this was so not one of those times.

That day, I was asking her this question as she descended the stairs after learning that the governor had closed all schools in Virginia for the remainder of the school year, prematurely ending her high school experience. In the split second after I asked the question, I was mortified.

Then I started to laugh. Her eyes grew wide.

“Let me clarify,” I explained, as we both chuckled at my awkwardness. “When I ask that question now, what I am asking is are you ‘little o’ okay? Because clearly none of us are going to be ‘big O’ Okay for a long time.”

I went on to explain that I was asking if there was something in that specific moment that was a concern—not the big existential question about her response to this crisis that continues to be so overwhelming, both at a societal level and at a deeply personal level.

The concept of “little o” okay has become a code word with my senior, a way to check in on the present. For now, “little o” okay is enough.

But we keep pushing to get us all to “big O” Okay.

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