It’s a simple question, and one I get asked at least a dozen times a day. And I’m an extrovert, so that means I have at least a hundred things to say in any given moment, right? Wrong. Among the many things that have changed or become more pronounced since my return to the US, I have found this seemingly simple social convention incredibly difficult to respond to. It’s not that people didn’t ask me how I was in Mexico. It’s just that when someone asked me that question in English we were usually going deeper than casual conversation. We were discussing spiritual health and culture shock and living in a house with 16 kids from incredibly difficult backgrounds. Suddenly I’m back in the States, and even after months to get used to it, I still struggle to form an acceptable response.
Sometimes I can get it right the first time: “Doing well. How are you?” But usually I stare blankly at the person, stutter out a few words, and only much later in the conversation remember that I should have asked how they’re doing as well. Again, it’s not that these pleasantries aren’t exchanged in Mexico. I don’t know entirely what’s fueling this faux pas. I recognize it’s horribly impolite. I’m sure that my mother and grandmothers are reading this and cringing (sorry). But something in my mind cannot respond when someone asks how I’m doing.
I want to tell you that I’m doing great, that classes are fine, that life is busy. But while all that is true, I’m also at a loss for words.
How am I?
Well, I’m still a bit overwhelmed by this whole readjustment thing. I guess I haven’t yet had time to process, so I just sort of jumped back into life and tried to pretend everything was normal. But–who’d’ve thunk?–nothing is normal. I spent my summer living with a very different normal than I grew up with. I spent my summer experiencing a very different normal than I’ve been living at school. In fact, I spent my summer breathing in an atmosphere that is almost as foreign to most people as the moon is. How often in your life do you live down the hall from several girls, all of whom speak your second language and all of whom have been abused? Is it really all that normal to refer to someone 6 years older than you as “Mom” in some sense? Are there that many people out there who have sat on a twin-sized bed in a pint-sized room with a half-dozen preteen girls (who come from unspeakable situations) talking about how no matter what hurt life brings–and no matter how hard it is to understand–God is always with us, and He always cares? And how many of us get to share our suffering with those kids, so that just maybe those hurting girls can see that we know God stands beside us, instead of just hearing that?
So life is not normal, and I don’t always know how I am.
Because I can switch gears in a moment. Sitting in a church service, listening to the music, I am suddenly swept away to a different service or to the mountain air or to my house’s crowded van. Eating in the dining hall with friends, I blink and reopen my eyes to see a table filled with 12-year-olds laughing and whining and asking for seconds. And when someone asks me how I am, I guess I find myself greeting kids as they burst out of the school doors: “How was your day?” “What did you learn?” Did you have fun?”
So instead of letting my mouth respond automatically, my brain is overloaded with faces and sounds and laughter. It’s too much to process all at once, and when I come back to myself, I realize that my friends are still standing in front of me, waiting for a response and looking a little concerned.
So, here’s my response, in case you’re stuck there waiting: I’m doing great. Life is full, and that is good. How are you?