“Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”–James Thurber
Nobody ever talks about about the time everything went right. Well, some people do: some people are more than happy to talk about the time they won an all-expenses paid trip to Paris, and how it was the most incredible trip, perfect in every way. Of course, these people are also usually blissfully unaware that halfway through their story their audience has either stopped listening entirely or begun to plot how best to stuff them in a sack and throw them over the side of a cliff.
But this kind of person, thankfully, seems to be mercifully rare. Much more common is the person who tells a story about the time everything went wrong—and not just because it is more common for everything to go wrong (it really isn’t you know), but because people instinctively realize the truth in what James Thurber said: adversity is funny.
Or at least it’s funny in retrospect.
I tried to keep that in mind the other day when the doctor gave me the news that Clementine had chicken pox. My first thought upon hearing this particular piece of joy was the story my mom still tells about the time me and my sister came down with chicken pox one right after the other, meaning that while we only suffered two weeks apiece, she ended up confined to the house for over a month. Oh, how I used to chuckle (at least inwardly) when she would tell that story, so amused by the haunted look in her eyes as she recalled being trapped in a house in the suburbs with two cranky children for a solid month. It was funny, you see, because it happened a long time ago—to someone else. Suddenly, however, the humor of the story was not quite so apparent. Or rather, it was not quite so accessible to me anymore.
There have been times, of course, when even as something awful has been happening I realized that it would make a funny story later. One of my most treasured possessions from my early 20s is the picture I took of a friend of mine seconds after she ran into a tree while sledding. As I ran down the hill toward her, camera in hand, I remember thinking, “Once she stops bleeding this is going to make a really funny story.” That was the thought that was foremost in my mind as I snapped the picture that day. And yeah, it is a funny story, now—not only because she turned out to be okay, but because I have a picture of a bunch of people glaring at the camera in disgust while my friend presses snow to her face in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Trust me: it’s a funny picture. Now.
Which is how I know that one day the chicken pox story will be funny, too. One day it will be funny that Clementine had to miss a week of high school right before finals. One day it will be funny that she walked around the house with a sheet over her head like an extra in Paranormal Activity 17 because she didn’t want anyone to see her face. One day it will be funny to all the boys in the house that, since the rule is the sick person gets to pick what to watch, for a solid week not one single zombie died on our TV screen, but rather a whole lot of spunky heroines finally got the guy. (Actually, that was funny at the time—for me.)
Heck, one day it will be even be funny that while she was sleeping I lifted up the sheet and took a picture of her spots. Well, okay, at least it will be funny to me.
And really, isn’t that the whole point?