They say that comedians are among the most complex and unhappy folks around. I buy that. I would not consider myself to be especially unhappy (which is why I am not a comedian) but I do believe that the most fucked up things are often the funniest.
One of the many lessons that my father taught my brothers and me was to never lose our sense of humor. It has served me well, particularly over these past nine years* where I have had to call upon it more often than I care to recall. It has been noted (by me) that the funnier I get, the worse things are. Those close to me will confirm this to be true. Those who do not know me well often think I am not taking things seriously enough. It is how I cope. And, further, if you don’t like it, I am pretty much unsure what to even say to you.
Sometimes just listing the issues that are front and center will reduce me to giggles (not to mention eye rolls and sighs). Other times, I will definitely find something funny about oh, I don’t know…an amputation or mutilation. While not generally an optimistic person (stupid half empty glass) I can always find a place to insert a joke or two, often to the dismay of those in my company.
Take, for example, the kick-off of my decade of crap (see if you can follow this…): the week that I was diagnosed with breast cancer my father was already deep in the throes of treatment for his lung cancer and my father-in-law went into hospice, passing away days later. Oh, yeah, and someone (who, it turned out, was a friend of my parents…awkward!) drove (tore is more like it) through the parking lot of the neighborhood shopping area, taking off the driver’s side mirror and crushing the door of my two-day-old car. And did I mention that George** was already showing signs of being a, shall we say a challenging child? Even as it was happening, I couldn’t help myself from cracking jokes and laughing. It was either that or I was going down and fast.
Jessie, thankfully, has inherited my coping mechanisms. Her sense of humor is intact a good 95% of the time and she isn’t afraid to use it. And, thank G-d, she appreciates and accepts my wisecracking…even when it may appear (to the outside world) that I am being wholly unsympathetic to her situation. Case in point: this weekend we were driving to get second holes pierced into each of her ears. (Let that wash over you for a moment. It would have brought me to my knees a year or so ago, but now I am down with it and am armed with the knowledge that she can either enjoy them for life or, should anything in her life “change”, let them close up. Not something I am stressed over. Props to me!) In the car she (randomly) commented that it is annoying that no one know how to spell her name: Jessy? Jessie? Jesse? Without skipping a beat, I responded by saying, “hmmm…there is only one way to spell George.” Now, I know that there are folks who will consider that to be a mean, provocative and/or insensitive thing for me, the supportive mom of a transgender kid, to say. But (and this is important), we looked at each other, she got a twinkle in her eye and smiled. She got it. Even better, she thought it was funny.
Similarly, last week while walking through a parking lot, she commented that a car looked like a penis and wasn’t that weird? “No weirder”, I responded, “than the fact that you have a penis”. Again, a twinkle, a gentle slug to the shoulder and a smile. Now there is a kid with a sense of humor.
It is not lost on me that her response and reaction to my particular brand of humor is a gift. Nor do I take for granted that I can impart my anxiety (see above: the funnier I get, the worse things are) by making comments and asides that might be offensive to some. I don’t mean to be hurtful, I just mean to cope.
When my father was sick he would watch hour after hour of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” re-runs, never tiring of seeing the same episodes over and over (and over) again. He would crack up at the same jokes, no matter how many times he had heard them. Sitting in the family room, bald and grey-pallored from chemo, he would be genuinely happy, mostly because he was laughing. He knew that he was dying from lung cancer, but still managed to never lose his sense of humor. Once, when his doctor ordered an “emergency” (read: he had to be squeezed into the schedule) CT scan he was growing inpatient having to wait his turn. He implored me to do something and I dramatically looked around the room, made direct eye contact with him and reported that I was powerless. I could not “play the cancer card” because everyone in the room had cancer…he was no one special. The two of us burst out laughing, much to the horror, I am sure, of everyone around us. It was like the episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when Chuckles the Clown died and Mary was unable, at his funeral, to control a case of the giggles. Sometimes that is just the way it goes.
I have had a bumpy few weeks. I have cracked a lot of jokes. I have been in ERs trying to silence my laughter and on phone calls covering the mouthpiece so as not to be heard snickering inappropriately. Oh, I know…there is a fine line between laughing and crying. That said, I always feel better after laughing my ass off. Not so much after crying my head off.
Life is short, precious and often annoyingly difficult. Maintaining your sense of humor won’t likely fix a damn thing, but it can sure make things easier to take, if only for those few silly moments. Try to find the humor in something, anything, today…I hope I will.
*It has been nine years (November 18 to be exact) since my cancer diagnosis which marked the start of a series of traumas, deaths, illnesses and other various and sundry life events. Fun stuff.
**Name choice intended.