Laugh at Small Stuff

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2014

People with disabilities use resourcefulness and a sense of humor to deal with the stress and challenges of everyday life.

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I learned early on that two of the many raps against people on wheels are we aren’t very resourceful, and we lack a sense of humor.

Years ago, an advocacy friend asserted that we’re the most resourceful people he knows.

“If you can coordinate home health care and supplies, stay healthy, take all your meds, maintain benefits and work, well, that’s resourceful,” he says.

As for a sense of humor, most of us learn either quickly or eventually that sometimes the best way to deal with adversity and challenge and stress is to laugh at it.

Flowers in the Manure

My education began early in rehab, shortly after joining morning mat class where my fellow quadriplegics and I were laid out on the floor for stretches and exercises, such as earlobe lifts.

Not far into the Superman stretch, which I found rather uncomfortable with a bum shoulder and all, I let out a grunt that sort of stretched into something of a moan. The guy next to me quickly joined in and within seconds the room sounded like happy hour in the Cat-o-Nine Tales Club. So began our daily bonding ritual.

Not long after that I had the good fortune of meeting Tom. He was a quad who’d been wheeling for a dozen or so years and would show me the ropes. We got in his van to go to lunch, with Tom driving and me holding on to the back of the passenger seat.

Everything was fine until an unexpected sharp turn tipped my chair over. I’m wallowing around on the floor of the van in a panic only to look up at Tom who’s laughing and shaking his head at me while I’m flopping around on the van floor like a fish out of water screaming, “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”

Tom pulled into a parking lot and flagged down some guys, telling them, “Numbnuts back there fell out of his chair, could you put him back in it so I can take him back to rehab?”

While we ate, Tom spoke of the importance of finding the flowers in the manure we wheel through each day. I’m still reaping rewards from that day.

Joke About the Elephant

Perhaps my biggest takeaways are that very few problems lack relatively simple solutions and that most of our dilemmas are worthy of laughter after the fact, if not in the moment.

Laughter is best shared with sisters and brothers of the chair, for who would know better? A lesson reinforced by gallows humor of fellow-quad rehab inmates. “Look at us,” someone would say, “we’re pathetic! We can’t even pull the trigger.”

We’ve all experienced our chairs being the elephant in the room; I did, and still often do, find that after meeting new people, they’re usually quite polite and friendly, certainly too nice and respectful of privacy to ask about my chair.

That’s how my new neighbors were for about a year and a half. In the process of transferring into my van one day I lost grip of my chair, which promptly rolled out of the garage, down the drive and across the street into my neighbor Chuck’s front yard.

Chuck saw this happen and went into action, grabbing my chair, running it up to my van and asking with genuine concern if I was OK.

“I’ve been trying to get rid of that chair for 10 years and just when I thought I had, here’s my pal Chuck bringing it back to me,” I said with a smile.

Ice broken, we both laughed and have been good friends since.

A joke about the elephant gets it out of the way, making room for more enjoyable stuff.

Seeing Beyond the Chair

Humor puts people at ease. Once they see us laugh at the chair, they can begin to see beyond it — to us and who we are.

Humor can also help set limits as to what we’re willing to discuss. When I grow weary of answering the “What happened to you?” question I’ll begin offering alternative explanations, such as “Juggling while riding a unicycle during rush hour,” or “Jumping out the Erikson twins’ bedroom window after their dad caught the three of us in bed.”

Humor helps people connect, generates more positive feelings and invites people in. Gruff, dour or grumpy demeanors are like locked gates, barred windows and growling dogs, announcing to the world, “Keep Out!” “Go Away!” and “Get Off My Lawn!”

Turning an old saying into a haiku, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. All of life is the small stuff. We laugh at small stuff.”   


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