“It takes more than just awareness for us to change. It takes courage and humility and the willingness to occasionally feel like fools and laugh at ourselves.” – Bud Harris
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, you may be missing the colossal joke of the century.” – Barry Humphries
I hope you never go a day without laughing. I hope you’ve also developed the ability to laugh at yourself and share your embarrassing moments with friends and colleagues. The professionals who measure such things, say it will do you good. While psychologists haven’t spent a lot of time exploring laughter, the few studies that exist indicate that hearty laughter, just like exercise, can reduce stress and improve the overall quality of our lives. I’m not sure how they measure an intangible like happiness, but since their results suit my purposes today, I’m going with them. I know. I know. I’m lowering my standards, but sometimes it’s necessary to forgo scientific proof and simply surrender to the limitations of the day. Based on personal experience, most of us know that being able to laugh, especially at ourselves, is a sign of resiliency and mental toughness. But, and it’s a big but, most of us are also keenly aware that life isn’t always funny. It takes self-awareness to find humor when the tides of fortune ebb and life seems stacked against us. It is at those times we need humor to help us see that life is layered and nothing is forever. There really is a need to smile through tears.
Several years ago I lost my depth perception and peripheral vision. Initially, it was devastating, but self-pity eats at the psyche and can destroy what is good and fine in life. You simply cannot let it take hold. Remember Pac-Man? He navigated a maze eating everything that he encountered. Self pity is like that. It will consume you if you give it free reign. I’m not Molly Brown, but I am an upbeat person who loves life and the people who have made it so enjoyable. My epiphany came early on. Following surgery to repair a retinal detachment I tried to pour myself a cup of coffee. The coffee spilled everywhere and not a drop made it to the cup. I started to cry, but caught myself and swallowed hard. This was my new reality and surrender is not a word in my vocabulary. I began using ballet spotting and balance techniques, and while it took a few months of determined hard work, I was again able to climb stairs and, more importantly, descend them without breaking my neck. I learned that if the light was good and I patched an eye, I could read again. I joined a book club. Then I took the big step and hit the trails. I went hiking again. While cautious and no longer a gazelle informing those behind me that I’d be waiting for them at the top, another pleasure was restored. And with that some adventure trips were planned.
That’s how I found myself on the edge of the caldera of Mount Bromo, a small but active cinder cone on the island of Java. First light had not yet broken and the path towards the top of the volcano was jammed with people. The 2 mile hike should have been a walk in the park, but it was rutted and uneven with small depressions that spelled trouble for any who unwittingly stepped into them. My concentration was broken by the press of people behind me, all of whom were intent on reaching the top before sunrise. There was a lot of shoving. I, of course, stepped into a pothole and went down, though happily not over. After the fact, gallows humor insisted I was spared because the volcano accepted only virginal sacrifice. My left leg howled, but it wasn’t broken. While it was badly scraped and gouged, once cleaned and disinfected there was no reason not to go on. Or so I thought. The gods of travel can be fickle and they were that day. I made it to the top of the volcano but the sun rise never materialized and a hematoma the size of a chicken breast began to rise on my leg. Travelers, especially those headed to Asia and Indonesia, are cautioned through the underground, about when and where to seek medical assistance. I obtained antibiotics but decided to wait until we were stateside for further medical assistance.
Once home, I headed to an Urgent Care center. I love my doctor, but one could die of old age trying to see him. I swear it is easier to see to the president than my doctor and I suspect his receptionist and nurse were trained by the Secret Service. I’ve leaned to visit UC centers when I don’t want to wait. The only problem is they do not have your medical history and that takes sometime to put together. We went through the standard questions but then came the biggie. Why are you here? I started to recount my fall on the edge of the caldera when the transcriber excused herself. She returned with a Physician’s Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner who stood in the doorway listening to my tale with rather large smiles on their faces. Someone led me to an examination room. I sat there for a bit before I heard someone ask, “Where did you put Lava Lady?” At my next appointment, I started to give an abbreviated description of my problem when the receptionist looked up and smiled. “So, you’re Lava Lady.” What can I say? I’m a mind sticker.