Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Heresy of Hardship

There are, without doubt, many difficulties in life.  There are, indeed, nights that we cry ourselves to sleep, and days when we wished we never had to wake.  But much more profound than all of the tears, the groans, the whining, and the paying for our groceries with the pennies pried from between the seat cushions of our ancient Ford are the moments we spend laughing at the very hardships we are facing.

I have recently been repeatedly reminded of my final year of college at Penn State.  Let me state up front, unequivocally, that it was not a good year, and, in fact, it may have been bar none the worst year of my life.  But it was also profoundly funny.  Faced with living with a felon (well, I don't know if she was actually convicted), from whom we were supposed to keep the fact that we KNEW she was stealing, my roommates and I engaged in bizarre behavior.  Our roommate would lie to our face and we would so, "Oh, okay then," as if the fact that we weren't supposed to know that she had taken checks and "borrowed" debit cards had also erased our capacity to see our name Sharpied on our own Tupperware container.  "It's yours?" we would say.  "Okay.  I'll just pretend I don't see my name in the corner."

Later we laughed about such things.  It wasn't funny.  Except that it was.

It was later comical to me that I went to worship in the cute little skort my roommate had given me for my birthday, a skort which she had stolen from a friend's girlfriend, who also happened to be attending the same worship service.

My other roommates and I laughed together when we were told that the police found our felon roommate when her grandmother called to report her missing--the same grandmother that she had claimed died the year before.

I was the only one up the morning that the police came to question her, and for some reason, I was uncommonly hungry.  I usually skip breakfast, but we had all ordered a mess of Hawaiian pizza the night before and I had just popped a piece in the microwave when the detectives pounded on the door to our apartment.

I let them in, called my roommate, and retreated to the bedroom.  For the next hour and a half, the police questioned my roommate while the other two roommates and I listened at the bedroom door.  I don't remember much of what they asked her.  But I do remember that we didn't want to walk out and past them while they were talking to her.  And so, for the next hour and a half, the microwave beeped once every minute to remind me that I had left my pizza in there.  No one said a word.  Let's discuss thousands of dollars missing.  But no one make the beeping stop.

Not at all funny was the fact that while the detectives were questioning my roommate to the very slow cadence of the microwave oven, Jillian Robbins lay under the cover of a bush on the HUB lot and began a shooting spree which killed one student and wounded another.  Some people asked where the police were.  I know exactly where they were.

Later that night, as our roommate lay in her bed asleep, my other roommates and I debated what to do in light of the day's events.  "We'll be fine," said my calmest roommate.  "As long as we hide all the knives."  And we all knew then that we weren't sleeping there that night.

Most of life is like this.  It is impossible to predict, enormously painful, and riotously funny.  It is like having acute diarrhea when your spouse wants "to talk."  Or having the hiccups during the most disastrous moments of "Schindler's List."  It is moving to another country with an infant and not being able to find the word for "diaper."


I recently visited my grandparents, and my grandfather pulled out some of his photos from the end of World War II.  As he was showing us pictures of the duffel bags to go, the remnants of towns, and the bridges he had built, he mentioned traveling to Nuremburg during the trials.

"Did you go up for the trials?" my uncle asked.

"Well, no," he answered sheepishly.  "The Red Cross was up there, and they were giving out doughnuts."

And you see, that is the crux of the matter.  It's not that the doughnuts undercut the horror of World War II.  It is that we mere mortals require levity to deal with life's less lovely lessons.

When we discuss hardship, we are often tempted to skip over the funny parts.  But it is the moments of humor that define us.  When life pins us to the wall, we can whimper and cower and give up the fight, or we can choose to laugh in its face.  And in choosing to laugh, we are choosing to live.

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