Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
Every so often, one of the people who reads my work will write me a review that says something like, “This shouldn’t be funny, but it is.”
I’m an EMT, a person who has chronic depression and a person who had untreated Lyme disease for twenty years. For all these reasons, my sense of humor is deepest black.
One thing I notice when I watch dramas, especially medical dramas, is that there is often an unremitting seriousness to the character’s interactions. It heightens the tension, but it is an example of how fiction misinterprets humans.
In real life, none of the helping professionals you meet during an emergency will be nearly as upset as you. To the cop, the EMT, the firefighter, the nurse and the doctor, the worst day of your life is merely Tuesday.
This does not diminish what is happening to you. It is still horrible and you are entitled to your fear/rage/shock/pain/whatever you feel. It bears remembering however: humans are incapable of maintaining that level of seriousness day in and day out. Unless they are actually clinically depressed and that’s a whole other blog post.
Spend any amount of time around people who have lived through grim circumstances and you will notice they all have a gallows sense of humor. The worse the circumstance, the darker and sicker the humor. Have you ever been at a funeral and wanted to laugh? This is NORMAL. Human brains are wired this way.
It does not mean we don’t care. It doesn’t mean we don’t understand that this is awful for you. It means we need to keep our shit together so we can not only help you, but we can also help the next person.
If you watch British comedy, you’ll notice a thread of darkness that underlies a lot of it. My parents grew up in the UK during WWII and they both had a pretty grim sense of humor. A cultural legacy, I think of having your first memories be of going to the shelter during a bombing.
After an especially bad call, you might hear helping professionals laughing with each other. We try to do it out of sight of the public, keep it in the squad room or break room, but it happens.
Job well done.
Ceredwyn in Firetruck, on our way home.
Why are we laughing when something horrible has happened?
Often, it’s because we’re on the first hour of a twelve to sixteen hour shift. Often, it’s because it’s cold and we just tumbled out of bed and we’re still a little bleary. Often it’s because we’re trying to keep up our own morale.
Sometimes, it’s because if we don’t laugh, we will sit down to cry and not stop.