Let’s just try to be kind to one another

Published 7:01 am Sunday, June 19, 2016

A few joked recently that our office is hexed.

We’ve witnessed a barrage of health concerns with our coworkers. By my count, at least eight of us have either experienced a health issue or had a close friend or loved one who has this year. But I really should count all of us, since we’ve witnessed several in our Herald family land in a hospital.

After our most recent incident, a few coworkers asked “Who’s next?” I responded by joking that our new Herald theme song should be “Another One Bites the Dust.”

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Someone else commented it’s like our own little version of “Final Destination.”

Too soon to joke?

I don’t think so.

Along with our office “hex,” the nation witnessed two tragedies in Orlando last weekend: one that left singer Christina Grimmie dead and a second that left at least 49 dead along with dozens injured at a nightclub.

After the Orlando issues, I’ve thought a lot about two quotes from author Kurt Vonnegut (warning: a swear word follows): “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind’” and “Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”

Both quotes stuck me for their wisdom and simplicity.

But all the while, I’ve seen countless people take to speech podiums and social media to argue their positions on issues like terrorism, gun rights/gun control, LBGT rights, and who the best — or worst — political saviors would be come November.

The more talk I’ve heard after tragedies and witnessed friends and coworkers get sick, the more I’ve thought about how we should stop looking to politicians and policies for salvation.

Seriously, let’s start by being kind and having a sense of humor — even if the humor is a bit black. And, in my eyes, humor and kindness really go hand-in-hand, especially since none of these jokes are intentionally directed at someone’s expense.

I talked with a friend and a few coworkers recently, and we all agreed 2016 has been a beast as we’ve had coworkers ill, friends ill and tragedies like Orlando.

If I’m to be honest, dear readers, I must admit that dwell on things — I worry and I fret. It’s just who I am. So my first reaction to the beast of 2016 was stress and crankiness. But then I heard three humorous stories from three families or individuals who faced or are facing life-threatening health issues, and these helped snap me out of the depths of stress.

One included a cancer patient and her grandson coming up with a funny nickname for her wig after she’d lost her hair to chemotherapy and the child had exclaimed that grandma’s hair grows really fast.

The second featured a patient unintentionally kicking an unsuspecting doctor in a sensitive male area — enough said.

The third, and my favorite, features two close friends’ 5-year-old daughter. She and her parents were in a serious appointment discussing the girls’ cancer treatment and surgery with a Dr. Tinkle. During the discussion, the girl was passing the time by drawing in an app on her dad’s phone. After a few minutes, she got her dad’s attention, pointed to a picture she’d drawn of a toilet and then pointed at Dr. Tinkle.

With each story, a little more stress melted away, because I could see a little more of my friends’, the families’ or my coworkers’ stress melt away. It’s a sigh of relief, an ice-breaker — or, to return to Vonnegut, it’s a response to fear in the form of life’s frailty.

This approach can backfire. I made a similar, light-hearted joke recently after a modestly stressful family incident and earned a terse, “This is not funny” response over text. Oops. I shrugged it off.

Certainly, there’s a time to not seek humor, especially for the families of the Orlando victims, and I’m not at pitching humor at people’s expense. When the going gets tough, you can laugh, you can cry or you can get angry. And one person’s reaction is likely to affect others, so if you’re going to take someone with you, you might as well laugh, even if the joke is a bit black.