“The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” – William Shakespeare, Othello
I have this weird…twitch? Is that the right word? Habit? Quirk? Compulsion? Whatever it is, it’s peculiar, and it freaks some people out. The worse the situation; the more I smile. The sadder I am; the harder I laugh. Jokes, sarcasm, witticism that are worthy of a groan. I can’t help myself. They come out of my mouth and people either laugh or wince. I get this bubble of excitement in my chest, and then two minutes later I deflate, reload, and try again because I can’t help myself.
If I don’t find a way to laugh, I will start crying and I’m not a fan of crying. Well, I’m not a fan of public crying. Behind closed doors, when I’m all alone, I can ugly cry with the best of them but in front of people? Nope. It makes me so uncomfortable and I just want to melt away. I’m a take on the chin kinda gal. Take it, swallow it down and let it out with a joke, smile, and a laugh. That’s how I deal with life and it’s many, many, potholes.
Is it healthy? Uh…
We all have our unique ways of coping with challenges. My Gran would put the kettle on and make a pot of tea. There was no problem too big that a cup of tea couldn’t fix. You know what? She wasn’t wrong. Is there a better feeling than wrapping my hands around a steaming cuppa tea? I swear, every time I make myself a cup, I hear my Gran say, “Hi love!”
When things became too much, my grandfather would disappear into his workshop and tinker away on one of his inventions. He was always coming up with creative solutions to problems that had already been solved. But he could do it better and more efficiently! No one could convince him otherwise. I think it was his way of reclaiming control when he was presented with a problem that couldn’t be fixed with a little elbow grease.
My mom gets lost in a book. My brother fixes old cars. A dear friend does cosplay and charity work. She makes kids smile and, okay, that’s better than a cup of tea. We all need a pressure valve because life, that little minx, is always scratching up the furniture. Without a quick release, we might prove that spontaneous human combustion is possible.
A few years ago, I was in pre-op waiting for heart surgery. I have an arrhythmia called Premature Ventricle Contractions (PVC’s) and Ventricle Tachycardia (VT or VTAC). If it isn’t treated, it can have fatal consequences. I take medications, and I have an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD). There had been a recall on my ICD and it, along with the wires going into my heart, had to be removed and replaced.
It’s not the most complicated surgery I’ve had done but anytime we’re dealing with the heart, the stakes feel a little higher. The surgeon and anesthesiologist went through the consent forms. They laid out the risks, the possible complications, and the potential for a “negative outcome.” Is it bad luck for doctors to use the word death? They always put a spin on it. Curious.
There was a risk, a small risk, that I wouldn’t wake up and I quipped, “Well I do like to sleep in.”
My dad said, “It’s like raising the dead!”
The doctors laughed and assured us they had, “Ways of waking the dead.” Wink. Wink. Chuckle. Finger guns. I signed the paperwork and sat back to wait for my turn on the meat grinder.
A nurse shook her head and scowled. “Do you really think jokes are appropriate in this situation?” Clearly someone hadn’t heard of gallows humour or, perhaps, humour wasn’t her forte and that’s okay. We all have our strengths, and we play to them as best we can.
Also, I realize that gallows humour isn’t for everyone, and some find it a bit offensive. Some prefer to spend their time in somber reflection before facing the knife. Others would rather quietly pray for strength, guidance, and a positive outcome. How you need to face a terrifying situation is perfectly acceptable and understandable.
For me, my family, laughter has always been our way of dealing with whatever life throws at us. We always try to be respectful of our neighbours and keep our nervous giggles to ourselves, but there will always be giggles. Even if it’s a stretch, even if we have to repeat tired old jokes, we will find humour in our surroundings because laughter takes the power out of fear.
Fear is the prince of darkness, and its thirst for blood knows no bounds. It’s the thief joy and peace of mind. It will always want more and it’ll never be satiated. Fear will conquer us if we don’t do something to fight back. It wants us to believe that it is invincible, that it’s stronger than us, but that’s a bold-faced lie. Its greatest weakness isn’t a soft underbelly but our ability to stand and smile it down.
How we do that will be as varied as we are but it can be done. Prayer, a cuppa tea, bizarre inventions, or gallows humour? Pick your weapon! The thief loses a little of its power when the robbed smiles back. In my experience, fear doesn’t go away completely, but it takes the edge off. It gives us the ounce of courage we need to proceed because fear will, if we let it, keep us from moving forward.
I went into that operating room afraid but with a smile on my face because I shared a moment of joy with the people I love. There were complications. I was ventilated and in the ICU for a few days, but even then my family helped me find the funny. They lovingly teased me when I tried to finger-spell and drunkenly scribbled nonsense on a whiteboard. I may not have been able to laugh out loud but still, I smiled. Those moments of joy kept me from falling over the ledge into an uncontrollable panic. Laughter kept me grounded, it kept me present, and it got me home.
I laugh when I should cry and I smile when I should scream. Maybe it isn’t always the appropriate response and if it offends you? I’m a little bit sorry. Fear is a strong enemy and my response might not be right for you, and that’s okay. We all have to find a way to take back what that thief is trying to steal.