I scribbled out a little essay-type-thing while I was waiting in the airport in Charlottesville. It’s not elegantly written, but I can’t bring myself to revise it. It’s just first-draft raw writing, and that feels somehow right.
I am in a tiny airport on the East Coast of the United States, and I am reminded of my father. The man to my right, whom I can only see from the back, is graying and dressed like a veteran businessman on a casual day — in other words, not very casually. He is regaling the man to his right with stories of engineering errors — miscalculations in the design of aircraft — not the sort of chit-chat most travellers would find entertaining before boarding a plane. But this man clearly enjoys the absurdity and darkness of telling these stories in this circumstance.
And that reminds me of my father.
“Sadistic,” my mother always shakes her head and says. “Your father has a sadistic sense of humor.” And it’s true, he laughs at movie pratfalls, situation comedies that pit a hapless character against insurmountable odds — and then make him suffer every imaginable cruelty before allowing him, inevitably, to triumph in the end. My dad loves this style of humor.
But I think part of what he loves is the security of knowing that the good guy -will- triumph in the end, against all odds. He can guiltlessly enjoy laughing at the misery in between.
So it shouldn’t have been surprising that during these dark hours of my dad’s battle against cancer, he is still able to laugh and joke about his hallucinations, about his kidney failure, about all the details of his suffering. Nor should it have been surprising that, until recently, he expected to triumph in the end, against all odds.
It broke my heart the first time I heard him acknowledge that there was no guaranteed victory here. “I don’t think this is going to be a short-term thing,” he said miserably.
How do you watch someone make that transition without losing your will to laugh? How can anything be lighthearted anymore when death is leaning on the doorway, coolly having a smoke before coming in to claim his due?
You find a way. You find a way because life is short, death is certain, and in between, humor keeps us sane.
Here in this tiny airport, the businessman to my right has just made a joke about the plane we’re about to board. It’s dark humor, to be sure. But you have to laugh. Don’t you?