Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Privilege of Laughing at a Time Like This

Last month, one of my besties (a term I’ve gone from loathing to loving) almost lost his life in a middle-of-the-night house fire. He woke up engulfed in flames. Other than the makeshift pajamas on his back at the time, he no longer has what he owned.

Of course, he’s not dry-eyed or uncomplaining, and the post-traumatic stress is in its earliest stages. His mind and body are undergoing a transformation. But not his soul.

You don’t know someone until you’ve seen how s/he responds to pain, crisis, or off-the-charts stress. To understand a person’s true character, watch how s/he behaves in the worst of times, not the best of times. How they handle themselves, how they handle others - along the victim-phoenix spectrum, most people fall somewhere in between; some are all phoenix, nothing but.

The phoenix who’s the subject of this post was in the ICU for 5 days. “The nurses loved me, they thought I was fabulous,” was one of the first things he had to say about that. His skin, including the skin on his face, suffered second- and third-degree burns. “Now it’s just like I had a chemical peel, I look fantastic,” he reported last week.   

He’s not getting back to himself – this is his core self.

In college, when his off-campus apartment was broken into, it sounded like the burglars prepared themselves a light meal in his kitchen before bouncing. “And they didn’t even fix me a plate,” he said not long afterwards.

During her one-woman Broadway show a few years ago, Carrie Fisher mentioned an occasion with her daughter. When Fisher chronicled the almost too-bad-to-be-true sorrow and dysfunction that had plagued her and their family over the decades, the daughter periodically broke into laughter, easily able to locate hilarity in the hardship. Fisher said that was when she knew her kid would always be OK.


  1. I have found out through the ups and downs in my life, that character is of the spirit, not of the physical body. If my spirit is ok, so is my life. Your friend will surely be always ok. His spirit is what keeps him going. Bravo for him!

  2. This is so inspirational. I love when spirit triumphs!

  3. {Melinda} Love this. I always admire people who are able to endure hardship without becoming cynical. It. is. not. easy. I've been through enough tough stuff to know that. Reaching out to God is the only thing that keeps me from becoming bitter during those life events that just don't make sense.

  4. My heart goes out to your friend. I cannot imagine the suffering involved in being burned. And yet to be able to offer a little joke, a little laughter, after such an experience...incredible.

  5. Yeah, I've had that same response to a few very traumatic experiences too. I think we laugh because if we didn't we'd cry and never stop. I admire how your friend is handling all of this though.