* "Are you back to normal?" is the question that I most often get now that it's been four months since our big earthquake.
I heard the question in San Luis Obispo and Pasadena. I heard it in Orange County and in Austin, Tex. It's a frustrating question for those of us who live in the quake area, because telling the truth feels like whining. Sometimes I just answer "yes" because the person would never understand anyway. There is no normalcy and there won't be for a long time, but people outside the area have no idea what I mean.
"Are you back to normal?" The question reveals how far removed the rest of the world is from us. I had not understood the meaning of alienation before Jan. 17, even though that was the theme song of the '60s, when I was in college. But now I understand alienation. My relatives don't understand. My neighbors outside of the quake area don't understand.
"Are you back to normal?" It's as if the question is a hope, so they can quit worrying about us. The truth is, there is no one who would like to be back to normal more than those of us whose lives have been disrupted. We would like to be able to go back to those favorite shopping areas and restaurants that we used to haunt, but they aren't there anymore. We would like to get in our car and drive according to habits rather than to have to think about each trip and the likely detours. We would like to quit looking at cracked plaster, broken bricks, hanging ceilings and soft insulation. Most of all, we would like to be with our friends who have moved away. Some have died.
"Are you back to normal?" I know it's a question of hope, and I know that it is meant well, but it only reinforces the gulf between us. If someone would only say, "I wish you were back to normal." Then I would know that they understand.
Richardson is the pastor of Northridge United Methodist Church .