The reason I called this blog (which, does anyone have a time machine so we can call this thing something other than “blog”?) “Strangely Naked” is because the mission statement is to present uncomfortably peculiar thoughts I wouldn’t generally say in public, much like showing my naked body to anyone, even myself. This preamble is because I am uncomfortable with what I’m about to write, which may seem too candid, odd and morbidly harsh.
My 35 year old friend recently had a heart attack. I write this not to court sympathy or crocodile tears but because the reactions that invites says a lot more about the person reacting than the person who had the medical emergency.
For some, it was a genuine melancholic concern for a friend. Others, it scared them into throwing out generic platitudes, meaningless cliches like “I’m praying for you,” or “if there’s anything I can do…” Things that rob the person of the intimate honesty that made us all friends in the first place.
If and when it’s me, I want the true emotion and candid thoughts and gallows humor that a life-threatening event like this induces. I would rather wake up in the hospital and be told both my buttocks had to be amputated and I’ll never sit again, have to watch movies and eat dinner standing up or laying on my stomach, than hear blatant lies like banal platitudes that could be alternately used on sympathy, get well, and pregnancy cards.
This person means a great deal to me…not enough to pick up a phone of course because I’m a lazy jerk who hates the phone. This news caused me to confront my own mortality. I stared at Death, who at first appeared to me as the Death from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey then I realized that based on my continued existence despite my relentless self-flagellation that Death is a morbidly obese smoker trapped in one of those supermarket scooters with a low battery charge.
This exploration of death and the personification thereof bathed me in the consciousness that I am not ready to face my expiration date. Instead, my mind deflects from any conscious contemplation of my impermanence with silliness. Hence, rather than examine my feelings about the vulnerability of humanity, the importance of friendship or the discussion of a continuation plan for this friend’s family, I responded in a group text, “Were you masturbating?”
I maintain this was the proper reaction. Yes, it’s crude, but when a traumatic thing happens, don’t we need some anchor in reality? Yes, I did just get through saying how this comment was born out of insecurity and fear, but it was also in the hope that it could be a reminder that we’re all still alive. We all still need to laugh in the face of death. Stare in that huffing, slack-jawed maw of the great beyond and spit into that giant-jowled chasm.
We don’t get that many chances to see the end of it all and instead of cowering in fear, muster up a perfectly timed fart. If we’re ever going to last a minute without screaming at the injustices of life, avoid spending our waning moments damning the minutia rather than praising the beauty of being, then don’t we need to make some juvenile ha-ha’s to keep from crying?
Of course there were better jokes to be made, but I acted on instinct. Other things I could have said:
- I used to smoke cigarettes and drink to excess yet you have two kids and you’re the one who had the heart attack, guess which habits are deadlier. That’s right: breeding.
- Don’t worry, Dick Cheney is still alive and his heart is part robot and part swine, held together with the Devil’s smegma.
- So, are you more or less into Valentine’s Day?
- You’re still low in my death pool if that gives you any consolation.
My point is that everybody has a different reaction to death. Some people’s emotions draw them to blankly parrot nonsense they don’t believe, others to churn the depths of their emotion to create a delicious emotional butter that gives everyone comfort, and some of us, well, we tend to lean on mockery and inappropriateness, using it like a stick in the spokes of Death’s Rascal scooter to slow him down a bit while we run off giggling for another day.
Soooo… If something were to happen to you & you survived & I was somehow there to witness it, there’d be no hard feelings if I pointed & yelled out, “Ha Ha!” like that Nelson kid from The Simpsons. Right? Because that’s probably going to be my first reaction.
I hope you would. Particularly if I pooped myself in said incident.
Years back, I was in the hospital with something pretty bad and they weren’t sure what was going to happen. Before I got sick, I had been reading a book called “Death” (it was about how cultures handle death and included stories about misdiagnosis! In the old days, people would be buried with bells tied to them that went up out of the casket that they could ring if they woke up underground…)
Anyway, everybody else was (or claimed to be) freaked out – by my being sick, by my choice of reading materials… I was calm and in good spirits.
Jokes would have been better than uncomfortable pleasantries…
Oh yes, I know the feeling. I too like to respond with humor… be it well placed and appropriate or the complete opposite (usually the latter).
Facing your mortality at 35? Come on, I thought it’d be at least 10 more years before that happens. I haven’t saved up nearly enough for a mid-life crisismobile (Porsche)!
Also, I know you said no crocodile tears, but I feel this is appropriate. And by appropriate I mean not.
“Were you masturbating?”
* slow clap *
(that’s applause, not the venereal disease, ya eedjit)
Seriously, your last paragraph is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
I love the idea of a slow VD. “Hi, Jessica? Yeah, I just visited the doctor and she told me I have Autistic Herpes. You were the only person I’ve slept with, so I thought you should know.”
Pickelope, for the person who suffers the incident, it is really scary and they seem to be pretty cautious or jump right into extreme exercise thereafter…one of the two. I like your last paragraph, and it would seem that we should try to bring cheer to the victim and the family rather than morbid comments that look like they are expecting immediate death after the heart attack. When folks ask “how are things going” when someone has had a serious health incident, I always think they want to hear the bad news. A friend had a stroke recently, and this is what i see. I’ll just keep sending cheerful cards and hope she recovers for her sake, instead of being stuck in a wheelchair in some care facility.
I had cancer a year and a bit ago. I buried myself in a never-ending tide of poop jokes (it was colon cancer). It seemed to be a reasonable way to deal with the fact I was scared shitless (see what I did there?).
This weekend, some balloons and a card addressed to a little girl who died of brain cancer floated into my front yard. It was the effin’ weirdest thing. I cried off and on all weekend.
I’m not sure why I feel that is relevant here, if only to say that there are strange things that will make us face our own mortality (or sometimes the fear of outliving our children) and the way we deal with these things are often strange as well.
That said, this is probably my favorite post.
I laugh in the face of death, pobrecito. When I lived in Illinois. a man died in a car accident not far from my house. His mom was in my Bible study group. When she wasn’t there, some of the other members would spend HOURS talking about how it happened and how long it took to get him out of the car and blah, blah, blah. I left when this subject came up because I see no point in going on and on about the details of someone’s death without a single laugh.
Honestly, “were you masturbating?” is funnier than any of your other jokes, so give yourself a high five for that one.
Boyfriend and I tend to gravitate towards gallows humor too (to the surprise of no one). I find that a joke coupled with choking out a meaningful sentence tends to work well.
When I hear bad news like someone I know had a heart attack and two of my uncles have had a few I never know what to say, other then hope they are ok, but then I am not close to said uncles. When dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 I was struck dumb, it was such a shock that again I didn’t know what to say and to be honest now over 5 years later I really don’t remember how I reacted and coped I just did. I don’t handle bad news very well.
“Were you masturbating?” was snortworthy! I had my cancerous prostate removed a couple of years ago and was laying in the hospital bed with a catheter attached. To lighten the mood of my caregivers I called out, “Nurse!Nurse! Someone has tied my penis to the bed!” I couldn’t keep a straight face with all those meds on board, but I tried.
As long as your friend understands that that’s the way you deal with thing, then that’s alright.
And this is why, when Death knocks on my door, I shall say, “Not now. I’m masturbating. Give me an hour or two.”
You’re all so “negative”. I never don’t always think of death and how it might happen n all.
I don’t “always” think of death, but sometimes you’re forced to confront mortality when something happens to someone close to you. That’s the point, death and “negativity” (to use your quotation convention) aren’t always there, but sometimes you have to face it, and when that happens, I choose humor to deal with such a shocking reality.
Silly me, I thought I had left a comment on a previous post and assumed you had looked a little at my blog. That’s why I wrote, never don’t . I can see my own mortality around the corner.