Thursday, October 23, 2014

Laughter and the inappropriate

I have been known for being easily amused as long as I can remember, and well, I am. Funny people get hearty laughter from me. People who aren't funny at all even get chuckles. I laugh more at myself than anyone else does. People and life amuse me.

I also laugh at really inappropriate times. Really, really inappropriate times. When my feelings meter is at the top and there's too much ugh! and ah! and oh no!, my reaction is laughter. At best, it is a coping mechanism. At worst, terribly awkward for all involved and makes me appear to be a complete jerk. A co-worker calls me out on this the most, and actually he's probably the one who has seen it most.

I have found out about numerous situations while at work or they were relevant to share at work but the feelings overwhelm as I begin to spill, and with my body trying to retain composure and tell the story, I completely lose control and laugh through it. Now when I say I have a story and begin to crack a smile, he often says, "Oh no. No, no, no. You are about to tell me about someone you know who was decapitated or some family member was run over by a train or some horrific story. NO!" And, sniffle, it's so true, and I can't help it.

Once when I was a kid, I laughed so hard (though stifled the sound) during a funeral that I was shaking. Someone behind me handed me a handkerchief because they thought I was convulsively crying. At least they didn't realize I was laughing because I was feeling too many feelings, but I felt so awful laughing at a funeral. Of a family member, no less. When I have had to break bad news to people, half the time I crack a smile while doing so. The news does not make me giddy, but I just, I just react in that way. Not that long ago, I was telling someone about some awful stuff that happened to me growing up and I freaking smiled through most of the story. There is no reason to have done so other than I completely lost control of showing appropriate emotions.

A few months ago my aunt (dad's sister-in-law) passed away after a long battle with cancer. About a month ago an uncle (one of dad's brothers) passed away. The same week a cousin (the daughter of the aunt who passed away) was in surgery and being treated for aggressive breast cancer. This week a cousin (the son of the aunt who passed away, the brother of the cousin going through cancer treatments) had a catastrophic brain bleed he cannot recover from and was taken off the ventilator yesterday. It is only a matter of time. And in walking to lunch today, my co-worker asked me a question that reminded me of this very sad story of family members waiting for cousin Billy to let go of this life. I began to tell the story and must have been smiling. He called me out. I straightened my lips and began again where I left off. The corners of my lips turned up.

I just can't do sad and heartbreak, though I feel it, because it's too hard. I've talked before about the wailing wall, but that I do alone. With others, in an unconscious attempt to remain steadied, my face contorts. A grin or giggle follow. A smile breaks, with the news, with the heart. And what is seen on the surface just doesn't represent what goes on below.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Tonight I sat with my eyelid twitching the way it does when I've had little sleep or lots of stress and thought about the coming chill in the air. This made me think of winter, which made me think of the coat I need to drop by the drycleaner's to have buttons replaced and a good cleaning given, which made me think of bundling up, which made me think of snow, which made me think of Africa. Obviously.

One of the best memories I have of snow actually involved no snow. When Katherine and I went to Kenya, we got the chance to work in a school. The children were sweet and smiley. Shirts were tucked and the students were all uniform despite the age range of each class. Some children had to sit out of class until their families could afford to pay the school fees or the children received a sponsor. We brought pencils and various school supplies. They had never seen manual pencil sharpeners. Mind you, these were the dime and quarter kind, the kind you rotate the pencil yourself instead of winding a lever. Can you hear the gasps of children seeing a pencil sharpener that is not a knife and the astonishment of the sharpened and smooth pencil?

Those gasps were slight in comparison to the explanation of snow and the airplanes that brought me to the children. I tried to describe the fluffy, powdery white. I tried to say that sometimes it is icy, always cold. I tried to describe the making of snowmen and throwing snowballs at siblings or friends. They had no concept of ice, no concept really of cold. "Oh, do you mean cold like yesterday?" No, child, I do not mean when it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. I mean when people bundle and they can see their very own breath breathed out into the air in front of their faces. That seems impossible to those just miles from the equator, to those who also put on parkas when the temps dip near 70 degrees but sweat near 80. Their threshold is small.

And I think about the areas of my life that could use a bit of expanding and challenging, the areas where my threshold is too small. The areas where I learn and discover what I never had seen or known. Or even what has been beyond my imagination.

So, that conversation about snow with the squeals of delight and disbelief--the way they receive and learn new information is something I need to embrace. There really isn't more to this story. I just thought tonight about those sweet little faces learning of snow and airplanes and learning to sharpen pencils and my need in embracing my unknown.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Justice, mercy, and humility

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.--Micah 6:8 
I have no doubt you have seen this verse more often in the last few years. It's likely you have seen the last sentence or portions of it on t-shirts or other memorabilia. It is often even written in or by an outline of Africa.

So, this justice we speak of...

I have noticed a surge in caring about causes, taking up arms, and encouraging others to give and do. Is this rally for justice real? Do people care more or is social media an outlet for them to appear to care? Are people talking about giving and doing because there has been a change in their being? Or is this a fad? It is pretty trendy to care about what is going on in Syria, human trafficking, or Ebola. Caring about causes. Everyone cares now. It's easy to care when the ice bucket challenge happens in August. What about February?

Should we not care why others cry out for justice and mercy but be thankful they are crying out? Should we care if their causes are diseases, or war and peace, or basic necessities? I think we all have something that pricks our hearts, makes us tender and responsive. We should be sensitive to that and respond and know that others are created and shaped differently and are formed to care about other issues. (I don't always do the best at the latter, but I'm working on it.)

Now I'm going to go consider what justice and mercy the world needs that I can be a part of bringing to bear. G'night.