“Our hopes and prayers . . . ”
I hate those words.
I’ve used them. Just like I’ve used “My sincerest condolences” but I absolutely hate those words. I know the sentiment behind them is genuine, yet the words ring false. To my ears, they speak of apathy and insincerity surrounding a moment of true compassion, and I hate it.
When tragedy strikes, I actively rebel against expressing platitudes and overwrought sentiments. I look for laughter. I try to find humor in a pitch-black world. I tell jokes. I make fun.
But why? Why do I do it?
In the past, I’ve explained how I use humor as a coping mechanism. It is how I deal with difficult situations, it’s how I handle life, and it’s what many people need to hear when moments seem the most grim.
I get challenged on this statement. I’ve heard that I’m not experiencing any pain, that this isn’t a coping mechanism, that it’s just a false excuse that I use so that I can make light of the sufferings of others, that it’s insincere and fake, that it’s a cop out. How can I say that I use humor to deal with pain and tragedy when I’m not personally suffering? I can’t blame anyone who has said this or thought it because it’s based on an incomplete reality. Without all of the information, how can they say anything else? It’s what you don’t see – what you couldn’t possibly know – that makes the difference.
When I heard about the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring countless others, I didn’t delve deeper. I stayed away from the details, and I told a joke about it, because that’s what I have to do. In my world, I have no choice.
I don’t know how it is for others. I can’t speak to that. All I can describe is what happens in my mind, when my overactive imagination combines with my empathy to form an overwhelmingly graphic film in my head. I don’t even have to read more than the headlines to be inundated with imagery. I close my eyes and see it all. The shock wave, shrapnel and ball bearings flying everywhere. The guttural cries of pain. A man with ragged bloody stumps where his legs were only seconds before. A child dying, never to grow old or experience the mysteries of life. The icy cold of shock spreading out in waves. The terrified screams of horror and the blanketing silence of the dead. That’s what I see, and the more I immerse myself in the stories, the more overwhelmed I am. If it wasn’t for my barriers and defense mechanisms, I would shut down, incapable of functioning.
Staying away from it isn’t a solution, either. My imagination can be tempered by reality, so I’m compelled to read about it and absorb every detail to try to dial back the imagery. Even then, though, it’s not always enough. I remember watching the beheading of Daniel Pearl ten years ago, and I can still see it when I close my eyes. I watched it and cried, not breathing, just sobbed, imagining myself in his position, knowing that was the end of my life, having no choice or control, and then I watched it again. And again. And again. Punishing myself over and over for being healthy and alive and fine while someone else suffered such atrocities.
“I heard that they declared a winner for the Boston Marathon. He came in first, second, fourth, and twelfth.”
This is how I cope.
This is the way that I take that imagery and shunt it aside. I use logic. I talk about abstract elements like one tragedy in the scope of all the tragedies in the world and the amount of people who die every second. I use humor. I tell jokes that shock and appall but bring that release of laughter. I use writing. With my words, I can express my true feelings and work through that which could be mentally and emotionally overwhelming.
I don’t need to have suffered the pain myself to need to defend against it.
This is not something I’ve shared before – it’s not something I talk about, because I don’t think people will understand it. How do you explain that you get flooded with a flash of explicit, graphic imagery every time you read or hear about the darkness in the world? How can anyone take you seriously if you tell them that you have to joke about it to push off your own impending anxiety attack and emotional collapse?
I don’t know the answer to that, but that’s okay. I can only hope that maybe this will shed a small amount of light on the reason that in a time of tragedy, I’m that guy. That guy who won’t use platitudes. He’s the one who will try to make you laugh. And if it helps you too, great, but in the end, it’s because it helps him.