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  1. Humor & Gratitude

    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    By Lisa Harmon

    But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home. By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it, letter by letter. So the rule is to avoid impulsive sallies. It deprives conversation of its sparkle, all those gems you bat back and forth like a ball – and I found this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of my condition.”

    This quote is from The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

    Bauby suffered a massive stroke which left him a quadriplegic. He dictated his memoir one letter at a time. This was his only method of communication. It is slow and laborious, and as he states above, makes it impossible to tell a good joke. Most everyone complains about writing, but for this man, in his state, it truly was a Herculean task.

    That last line in the quote is what struck me most. Of all the striking images and thoughts in his memoir, this one practically jumped off the page.

    I cannot fathom that he found the “forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks” of his condition after his stroke.

    Let's be clear – his stroke left him on life support. He was on a respirator and a feeding tube. He was unable to move any part of his body other than his left eyelid. He was completely dependent on those around him and I believe he lived all his days after the stroke in a hospital until his death about two years later.

    He talked about some of the things he no longer could do, some that he missed more, some less. Things like hugging his son, eating food, changing the channel on the television.

    In the face of all those losses, the loss of independence, of privacy, of mobility, of freedom – he still felt one of the “great drawbacks” was his inability to fire off a good zinger! Imagine that, of all the things this man is no longer able to do, telling a quick joke is something he singled out for missing, above other losses, perhaps more physical, more basic and more practical.

    I mean, think about it. Think about what he is saying. He went from a functioning adult to a total quadriplegic. He had what they called “locked in syndrome” - completely mentally aware and able, yet trapped in a body that no longer works. Think of all the myriad things he can no longer do. Practically everything. There's almost nothing left of his old life, and yet, he tells us how he misses telling a joke. Not only that but he must go to great lengths to tell us that, or to tell us anything at all.  In light of his difficulty communicating, each word takes on greater import.  We know what he's telling us is important just because he's telling us.

    But that line about forced lack of humor – it really stands out. I will never forget it. Because I can barely understand how a man who has lost so much – practically everything – how he can put telling a joke near the top of the list of great losses. I can't even understand how this can be missed at all, when there are other huge losses to be counted.

    I mean, just what is so important about telling a joke? Maybe there is a reason people are compelled to communicate through humor. Perhaps it is more visceral than we realize. I know there is a connection there, when humor hits its target – a connection is formed between all who are in on the joke.

    But that this can be missed as much or more than other things he must be missing – that is what I find so amazing. That's why I'll never forget reading this memoir.

    Until reading that sentence, it never occurred to me that the ability to successfully tell a joke is something to be grateful for.  I mean I took it for granted.  But now I will never forget this man who has suffered more losses than I could ever tolerate, and how, of all things, he laments the loss of his ability to tell a joke.

  2. 3 comments:

    1. She So Funny said...

      You've just inspired me to add another book to my long list of "to read"... Great post. Thanks for sharing. ~S

    2. RHC said...

      Makes you grateful for every simple thing, eh?

    3. Real humor (that makes you unable to NOT laugh) helps make emotional pain tolerable. Crying does too. I think they are both necessary releases.

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