People can become very twitchy about humour in relation to disability. Laughing at any aspect of it can seem a transgression of the gravest sort. How could anyone with a conscience make fun of the poor little blind girl, right? Barbaric!
Contrary to this belief, I find humour inexpressibly helpful; indeed, sometimes I’m not sure how I’d survive without it. There are many situations in my life that seem to demand tears. When I can’t (or won’t) cry, I can always laugh. Laughing can defend me from the scorn of others; it can shelter me from the humiliation of what has just happened; it can strengthen me in the face of whatever it is I’ve messed up this time; and it can encourage others to laugh the hard stuff off, as well.
Take a simple blunder like this one: during a camping trip many years ago, I was visiting with my sister, a friend of hers (a stranger to me), and a cousin. All evening, my cousin had occupied the same chair. I usually pay attention to where people choose to sit, as it makes it easier to interact with them with a modicum of social grace. Believe me, I need all the grace I can find. Unfortunately, this system isn’t infallible, as I was soon to discover. Assuming that my cousin was still seated where she’d been all night, I went up to her from behind and hugged her, crooning “I loooove you!” for good measure. Without missing a beat, my sister’s friend replied “Aww! I love you too, Meagan!”. I wasn’t about to cry…so I laughed. This wonderful person had the grace to laugh with me.
Social slips like that one are sometimes enough to make a rather shy girl like me recoil in horror, retreating into a ball of humiliation until everyone else has long forgotten the incident. I have, however, learned to use humour as a tool to handle embarrassment with confidence—something that is essential when trying to put others at ease. If you’re planning to pursue a career in communications and public relations, as I am, networking is an unavoidable component of the field. I learned early that if I pretended I was comfortable with my “blindness mistakes”, others would become comfortable with them as well. Getting them to giggle with me over them is even better, so I aim for a laugh almost every time. Of course, if the slip is tiny, it’s sometimes better just to let it rest; chances are whomever I was with didn’t even notice it anyway. No need to draw more attention to myself than I already do. And you know what they say about faking it till you make it…that really works. Since using humour as an instrument of social bonding, I’ve become much more at ease in my own skin, even in the most terrifying of public situations.
I’d like to address something far more important, though, and perhaps far less well-known to people in general. From a very early age, I have acknowledged the benefits of a little gallows humour when things go horribly, horribly wrong. While blindness doesn’t often put me into devastating situations akin to, say, terminal illness, it certainly tests my patience and fortitude at times. I’ve talked about getting hopelessly lost, being denied essential opportunities, and struggling with a minor identity crisis. All these things would have been so much harder to bear had I been unable to laugh at them. Even some of the small stuff—submitting essays with messy fonts, groping strangers on the bus, and tripping that poor guy on crutches (more on that later) seem a little worse than they actually are while they’re happening.
Reactions range from admiration to outright horror when I make light of serious issues surrounding my disability. It’s as though people think I’m degrading myself by laughing at it, even though it’s my issue to laugh at if I please. “Don’t talk about yourself that way!” they exclaim, leaping onto soap boxes that have appeared from thin air. I always respond the same way: “I need to laugh. If I don’t, I’ll cry, and nobody wants to see that.”. While there’s nothing wrong with venting frustration or sorrow in whatever way suits, I generally prefer a good belly laugh to a storm of tears. Besides, I’m far less attractive with a red nose and puffy eyes and, as we all know, unattractiveness is a tragedy!
It is true that the suffering experienced by those with disabilities is no laughing matter in general. It is not to be taken lightly and should be treated with some solemnity and respect. With this in mind, it is perfectly acceptable for both the sufferers and those closest to them to find a little humour in a bad situation, especially if the alternative is to wallow in despair. I realize that this might seem like clichéd advice, but it’s advice that few people actually seem to take. Maybe it feels like crossing an invisible line, over which you might be considered callous or unfeeling. But they don’t keep doling out this advice for nothing. It really works; this pronouncement comes from a veritable flood of experience. I’ve been in just about every hopeless situation a blind person can find themselves in, and humour has helped me out of nearly all of them.
We’ve all heard the wry, brave humour of the desperately ill, bereaved, and endangered. Their ability to laugh at themselves and their various predicaments isn’t just something to be admired; it is something to be imitated. Even if you don’t feel in the least strong, laughing at your problems will make them seem more manageable, even if nothing has changed. Laughter, after all, means that you’ve gained some distance and perspective on the issue, and are able to find whatever silver lining there might be in it. It’s not just about putting on a brave face and displaying the appropriate heroics. It’s also about lightening your burdens as much as you can, and allowing others to lighten theirs as well. You can be sure that if you’re suffering, someone else is suffering with you. Do them a favour: make them laugh.