My grandmother came from a large first-generation Irish-American family. All blessed with a wicked, but subtle sense of humor and superb poker faces, it was easy for their humor to run under the radar.
But what if the humor itself hid something below the surface?
One of her siblings, a woman I never met due to her premature death and my postponed birth, made dear through family love and lore, apparently had the sharpest wit imaginable. She brought joy wherever she went and had everyone in stitches.
When I was older, I learned that she had suffered from depression. My first inclination was to think how ironic that was given her ability to inject laughter into any situation, but I realized that made her the perfect candidate, then, for family comedian.
It made sense that the person with the most pain to hide would be the one who needed the most diversion; both keeping her mind off her own problems and drawing others’ attention away from them.
It’s easier to crack a joke than to admit you’re trying so hard to force a smile your face might crack. It takes less energy to make a witty remark drawing a laugh than dealing with the awkward silences and looks of pity. There’s less mental energy and anguish in concocting playful banter than constructing a viable explanation for your moods.
My senior English teacher, who later became a mentor as I prepared for an education career myself, when dealing with a particularly challenging class or situation, would say, ‘Laugh so you may not cry.’ I quoted that line as I waited out the next contraction in my difficult third labor. My midwife couldn’t believe I still had that attitude at that point in the game. ‘You have to, right?’ I asked. ‘Not everyone does, though, Jen,’ she answered.
I had to.
Not finding some bright spot, some positive attitude, was akin to curling up in a ball and dying. And that was not an option. So, then, there really was no choice. By process of elimination, grinning and bearing it was the only way to move forward.
Whether it’s an avoidance tactic or a coping mechanism, humor gets a lot of people through their days. And from that deep, dark place of truly authentic experience comes some damn good material.