Sometimes I laugh instead of cry. For one thing, it is more uplifting. For another, it energizes, rather than drains. However, sometimes it is really just inappropriate.
I am not alone though. Many of my Army friends have this coping mechanism. I also know quite a few nonmilitary people who do it too though.
I think it started when I was kid. I wanted to be the funny one. I liked when I made people laugh. I was silly. I was the high school class clown. I was labeled as goofy, silly and witty. That was cool with me as I could never compete with the rich, pretty, popular girls. So, I was quite happy being the nice funny girl who got along with all the clicks.
When I deployed, humor was just part of my personality by then. But it added something more in a war zone. It protected me. Not in the literal sense of course, but in a mental way. Comedy became a form of mental resiliency. Random rockets would hit my base in both my Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. Sometimes there were a few a day. Sometimes it was only a few a month. That was the thing though. You. Never. Knew. When. Or. If…. You also worked along side of local nationals at times. Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people. However, there was always a story that some national on some base somewhere got violent. So you always had that ‘what if’ worry in the back of your head.
Combine that with intense work loads, little free time and lack of your normal daily life and world around you…that adds up to a lot of stress. (And then multiple that times 100 for those Soldiers who actually had much more intense and “outside-the-wire” jobs.) But for many of us, this pressure cooker situation was diffused with comedy.
One time in Afghanistan, some Monday mortars, aka rockets, landed on base and the sirens started wailing. In these situations, some Soldiers jump into action. Others Soldiers get out of the way. Not that we are hiding, but our place/mission is to go to the bunkers. It is essentially like civilian police and fire department workers. When they are needed, the rest of get out of their way. So when the sirens went off, I ran to the closet bunker. As I stood in the concrete bunker with about 15-20 other service members, we all start laughing at the randomness of our uniforms. It was around 4 a.m. after all and when rockets go off, you move. The last thing you are worried about is whether your boots are laced or your shirt is buttoned.
So here we were, a bunch of highly trained Soldiers, looking all unkempt. Hair was loose and messy and on our collars. Some wore a combination of their regular uniform and their fitness uniform. A few guys had no shirts. One service member, did have something very odd though. He had a coffee pot.
As he ran out of his bedroom ‘hut,’ he grabbed his morning joe along with his helmet and weapon. You never know how long an air raid will last, and he was going to be prepared! We all laughed at our appearances and sipped coffee from the pot as we took shelter and waited for the unknown with masked anxiety.
Years later and back in the states… when my mom died, my sisters and I were together for a few days. As we went through our mother’s things, we made jokes. Ok, well, I made a lot of jokes to make them laugh, but they threw in a few here or there too. We’d laugh at all the recipes our mother had printed…and never made that we knew of. We giggled over little memories of her being mad at each of us. We broke in bursts of laughter as we imitated her catch phrases until we had tears in our eyes.
Even at her funeral, I was laughing at things people said to. And sometimes, they were not even all that funny. I just wanted to laugh. I needed to laugh because frankly, I didn’t have the energy to cry. Everyone was stressed and sad and I somewhere became the “strong one.” I did not audition for the position, nor did I want it. Nonetheless, I had it. So there was no time for tears, and I knew that if I started to cry, I may not stop.
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain,
comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
I have often been accused of being cold and not taking things seriously because of my humor too. I can see how a joke in certain times can be perceived as inappropriate or insensitive. However, if people looked past that, they’d see someone just pushing back the tears and finding a way to cope.
Is that really that wrong? And how many of you do the same?