Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When it all feels like consequences...

A friend of mine recently had hip surgery following a car accident (which, thank the gods, alerted the doctors to the bone cancer...). My friend was complaining that, although he had had a good night's sleep, it meant he had missed his scheduled pain control and now was feeling hideous. Another friend, very well meaning, said, "well, at least you got a good night's sleep!" And in that moment I suddenly found the right words I'd been searching for, for years: "It's hard to celebrate the good stuff, when it has consequences just like bad stuff."

We're taught that consequences follow actions. The laws of cause and effect. We learn, as we grow up, that although our parents may not be around to punish us, some actions have built-in punishment: waiting the last minute trying to pull an all-nighter, going on that weekend bender, flying too close to the sun... And hopefully, we learn, that in order to avoid consequences, we don't do the bad thing in the first place. We balance desires with our values and experience. We delay gratification for "right now" in order to accomplish even greater in the future. Yes, studying doesn't feel good right now... but getting your foot in the door because you have a degree is better than fun. It can mean the difference between eating what you want and eating what you can afford.

So it's really, really difficult when that whole system gets thrown on its head. When getting a good night's sleep isn't rewarded with a day of feeling well-rested, but a day of agonizing pain. To steal from Terry Pratchett: sometimes it isn't about good or bad choices... sometimes it's just about choices. I've found that life becomes really difficult to gauge when there's no way of knowing that what i'm doing is right, but knowing, no mater what, there's something I'm doing wrong, that I'm only going to find out about when it bites me in the @$$. That's a really, really, uncomfortable way to live. And sometimes life is like that. No amount of applauding is going to help. The best medicine, in my experience, is straight-up laughter.

The U.S. military has an "unofficial" set of acronyms for this: SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR. Situation Normal: All Fouled Up; Things Are Really Fouled Up; and Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. The first one is usually said in resignation that things are screwed, and yelling and screaming isn't going to help. The second one is generally said with eyes wide, as things are serious now. The last one is used when so much is going wrong it has just gotten absurd.

That's the point at which we really learn human limitations, and just how amazing it is that we can get anything done. It's the point at which we see humanity for what it is, and how we all take ourselves so seriously, but that things haven't changed. We're all making the same mistakes. We're all still fighting over the same petty things. Shakespeare is still relevant because we haven't grown up a bit in the last 400 years!!! We might need to change the language up a little bit, but we still understand the story... we still understand the feelings... We're all still... human.

When it all feels like consequences, when it's difficult to celebrate the successes, what else is still available? Laughing. Wry, bitter-sweet laughter. Deep, surprising laughter. Not just, "I will acknowledge that that statement is funny" laughter, but genuinely-felt laughter. Laughing at ourselves laughter. (That's the best one because it's the most healing.) The moment we can laugh is the moment we've let go of the anguish. Laughter, more than anything else, can raise morale and breathe life into the dying.

Life is still life, and sometimes it's not fair. Sometimes there is no right way, there's only the way through. Sometimes there is no good answer, there isn't even an answer, only more questions. It's messy, it's shocking, it's hauntingly beautiful, and sometimes downright magical. It's life. And, to quote Mr. Mellencamp, "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone."

Let's laugh and make the best of it.

Dedicated to Brandon Miller


  1. What a great post. I often say I move one step forward and two back. Or I have two speeds...stop and reverse. Both I say with the same thought as this post. And yes, like you I truly believe we just gotta laugh. That is why you will often here my writing or saying that laughter truly is the best medicine. Or on some days, I gotta laugh to keep from crying. Keep on posting.

  2. I enjoyed your post! Of course laughter is definitely the best medicine but we sure do need to be reminded of that. Especially when we suffer, it tends to make us see only the serious side of life. "We're all making the same mistakes" is so true. Still there is learning to be had at the centre of those mistakes. My learning for today is to remember to laugh, thanks to you!

  3. Laughing got me through my years of the worst pain. And what a marvelous way to remind ourselves that life is worth living, right?

    I'm a sucker for good stand-up. Eddie Izzard got me through my first adrenal crash! lol