“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”- Langston Hughes
I could be a bit of a stick in the mud when I was a teenager. I was always so serious about everything and frowned upon dark humor, expecting people to be as serious about life as I was. Slowly, I developed a sense of humor.
I remember when I started to loosen up. My mom told me Easter had been canceled. I asked why? She replied, “the body was found.” slowly it dawned on me what that meant and horrified chuckle escaped; from then on I learned to appreciate the power of laughter and levity, especially in times of crisis, when things are serious or emotionally charged.
I think that we sometimes feel when we allow ourselves to see the funny, the absurd, the ironic and the ridiculous in challenging and/or dark times that we judge ourselves, and have perhaps judged others, for their ability to joke, smile, laugh and move on, instead of wallowing, over-emoting, and analyzing everything. Sometimes you need to make the inappropriate comment, share a well-timed expletive and mine the situation you find yourself in for something valuable; shared levity and a sense of “we are all in this together.”
I found this especially so when I started working as a forensic interviewer of children who had been victims of crimes. Who knew that you could find something humorous in something so awful. Working with detectives and investigators you learn quickly the importance of levity.
One time, I was interviewing a nine-year-old. He had been kept in a closet for years but was very bright. I went over my expectations for our talk and let him know that I might ask the same question again, and if I did that, that did not mean I wanted him to change his answer, it just meant I forgot. The child eagerly interrupted me at this point, exclaiming “Oh, do you have Alzheimer’s? I heard that if you have Alzheimer’s you forget how to go potty.” Suppressing a grin, I explained, that just like him, I just forget things once in awhile. Later on, while asking him a question, he replied “Is this really any of your business? I’ll tell you anyway.”
Another time I was interviewing a little girl. As I leaned over she stuck her finger in my shirt and pulled the front down to look at my boobs. When I took a break to talk to detectives I was asked: “Did she put a dollar in there?”
A detective once made a comment on how maybe a little girl, around seven, could be charged with solicitation when her brother offered to pay her for sexual favors.
Then there was the time I was doing a safe body talk with a teenager. Who knew, in this day and age, that teenagers can still be shy or uncomfortable about naming private parts? As a forensic interviewer, you can assume nothing and must use the child’s words so I asked her what the private parts are called on a boy?. The teen, clearly at unease over the question, replied “a fruit bowl.” Trying to keep a straight face, I asked the teen what part of the fruit bowl is used for going to the bathroom. “The banana.” I broke down laughing but quickly got myself together. The teen assured me it was okay to laugh; that it was funny.
Then there was the time I was talking to a teenage boy. It was a case involving an adult male trying to lure him into sexual touching. We had a discussion about this and at the end, we talked about something more neutral that he likes to do. He talked about how he just liked to stay in his room. I chuckled and said “It sounds like your room is the place to be” and we concluded the interview. When I went to talk to the detective he laughingly pointed out, that I had just told a teenage boy who had been discussing sexual touching, that his room was the place to be.
I also liked to infuse humor when talking about forensic interviewing. One time, when speaking with a group of Victim-Witness Advocates along with the Director of the advocacy center, I used Spongebob to help explain rapport building with children. I told them how I personally, found Spongebob to be creepy but kids just love him and then talked to them about what some of the kids say that is serious but also humorous. At the end of the talk, my Director turned to me in amazement and exclaimed: “they were laughing.” I explained that you need to have levity with the dark. If you just talk about the heavy stuff it is going to be overwhelming but if you use well-placed humor it helps relieve some of the stress from what you are hearing and will make the information you share more memorable.
Humor has been a saving grace for me, whether at work or in my personal life. When my grandmother died, her ashes were placed in a box in a pretty purple bag. I have often thought what a great gift she would be for a White Elephant gift giving party, like at Christmas. I can just imagine the look on the person’s face, as they pick the cheerful bag and then look inside. Do they think the package, labeled “human remains,” is a joke? Do they try and open it, thinking there must be something really fantastic inside? Just the sheer shock and confusion on their imagined faces gives me a dark little chuckle.
Humor can have health benefits as well. Have you ever been in a stressful situation and someone said something so absurd or so ironic that you just broke out in belly laughs with tears streaming down your face? Felt good, didn’t it? You felt lighter, things did not seem as bad.
Humor is a survival skill. It is a healer and shared levity lightens your burdens and helps you cope. It is good for the heart, soul, and mind. It keeps you walking thru your challenges and knowing that as dire or sad or scary as something might be, you can face it. You are not alone. Just don’t look in the purple bag.