Everything Will Be OK


My doctor’s office has gone electronic. They have put all of their medical files into a computer software system. Now all of my colds are zeros and ones. I’m hyper vigilant when it comes to my health. Well, it’s not so much vigilance as it is compulsion. I just want to be okay.

“The word ‘okay’ is a colloquialism. It denotes approval, acceptance, agreement, assent, or acknowledgment. ‘Okay’ can be an adjective meaning something is adequate.  It can be an interjection of compliance or agreement (okay!), as well as a verb or noun meaning “assent” — as in to give your okay. It is a versatile discourse marker used with appropriate voice tone to show doubt (umm okay…) or to seek confirmation (okay?).[1]

My particular type of hypochondria is subtle, because when it strikes I usually do actually have some kind of real ailment. Many times they are just things other people would wait out, ignore, or try to push away with over-the-counter remedies. But if I actually have access to healthcare, like too few people in the world do, why wait it out? Why not just make sure everything is okay?

Likely this is the reason behind what I saw the last time I visited my doctor. From his new computerized system, I received a printout with a list of pertinent medical information. At the bottom of the page were my last few prescriptions. In that section there was a notation: “Needs reassurance.”

According to Allan Metcalf’s book OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, the word began in 1839 as a joke in The Boston Post newspaper — the joke being their use of ‘OK’ as an abbreviation of the misspelled phrase “oll korrect” rather than “all correct.” [2]

A few years ago something bone shaking, something core striking, something awful happened to me. I don’t need to get into the specifics because awful things happen every day. Awful things have happened to you too. Maybe they are happening now.

“Dutch, German, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Italian, Spanish, Welsh, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Filipino… these are just some of the languages that have adapted the word OK.”[3]

During this awful time, in the dead of night, I would whisper to myself: everything will be okay. It’s the kind of hackneyed zoned out mantra we say in the face of awful things. It’s kind of silly because it can’t always be true. Even if it were true in my case, how would I have known at the time?

Despite that sound logic, just hearing the phrase again and again helped me imagine a time when things would be okay. However, I did not imagine that things would be okay in the infernally optimistic sense. Nor did I imagine that things would be okay in some pie-in-the-sky way that denied what was happening or its effects. Lastly, I definitely did not imagine that things would be okay because of any kind of promise made to me as a true believer.

“Shots were never [actually] exchanged at the O.K. Corral, but [they were] nearby, and the cowboys spent their day there before the bullets started flying.”[4]

“Everything will be okay.” Every fucking thing will be okay. Maybe when people say “everything will be okay” they aren’t referring to us on an individual level. Maybe they mean that “okay” might be the resting state for the universe. Maybe that’s why they are so certain — in the face of awful things — that “everything” will return to “okay” again and again. Maybe they mean everything will be okay, even if you won’t be.

“Okay” was the first word spoken on the moon.

I was watching this movie Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that could only ever be described as “okay,” and this character kept repeating that popular “okay” quotation. You know the one, which is often attributed to Paulo Coelho, but sometimes also to Unknown, to Ed Sheeran (What?), and, of course, to John Lennon: “Everything will be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” You’ve seen it a million times on embellished stationery or on embellished Tumblrs, depending on your age and predilections.

Anyway, I always thought that quotation was a little stupid, or at least short-sighted. The premise just seems unrealistic; things end in fucked up ways all the time. There are plenty of awful things that could happen which would absolutely be an end and be worlds and worlds away from okay.  Anyone who doesn’t believe that can just ask Yoko Ono, or they can just ask you, or they can just ask me.

The eighth U.S. President, Martin Van Buren, was from Kinderhook, New York. During his campaign Old Kinderhook clubs, or “O.K.” clubs, formed to support the President whose nickname was also “OK.”[5]

Though it is also commonly spelled ‘OK’ or ‘O.K.’, I always spell it ‘okay’. This is not due to any grammatical high ground. It is entirely the fault of one of my screenwriting professors who was adamant that the other two spellings were incorrect and drummed this spelling into my skull. He just kept repeating the correction again and again on every script I turned in to him. I thought it was kind of annoying; it took longer to write out spelled his way, but the sheer will of the repetition changed me.

“…During the Creek War the Choctaws contributed 500 men to Andrew Jackson’s army. …During the battle, Jackson is said to have asked Pushmataha if the fight against the British was going well for the Choctaw detachment. Pushmataha supposedly answered with a Choctaw word, which meant that things were all right. Jackson liked the word and began using it himself. The word was OK.”[6]

So, my doctor is a good doctor. His diagnosis is correct. I do need reassurance. After all when something awful happened, in the dead of night, I would whisper to myself again and again: “Everything will be okay.” I doubt that the sheer will of the repetition changed anything, except me.

I still don’t know if it’s true that “everything will be okay.” But it was in this case. Well, actually that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, that’s not even remotely accurate. Everything is not okay. But I am. 

[1] YngveVictor H. “On Getting a Word in Edgewise,” in Papers from the Sixth Regional Meeting of the Chicago. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society (1970) p. 567-577.

[2] Metcalf, Allan, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011

[3] Nicks, Denver “OK, O.K., Okay.” The Daily Beast Dec. 8 2010

[4] Nicks, 2010.

[5] Read, A.W. (1941, July 19). “The Evidence on ‘O.K.’,” Saturday Review of Literature.

[6] Kaye, Samuel, Ward, Rufus and Carolyn Neault, By the Flow of the Inland River: The Settlement of Columbus, Mississippi to 1825, Columbus: Snapping Turtle Press, 1992.

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