When in off the charts physical pain, it is hard to imagine spending much time laughing. Actually, I have told people close to me to watch out for when I laugh because that is a clear sign that I am hurt, but by that I am referring to falling off a bicycle, taking a hard impact of some kind, but I am not referring to chronic pain. I realize what I just disclosed is not a “normal” response to pain, but an important one to note you ever share company with me and I experience an acute injury during that time. The reasons for this “laughter” are not necessary to unpack right now.
While at physical therapy today, I heard a man telling the Tech that he had just returned from visiting Florence. I lived in Florence 23 years ago, but I still remember the city in such a clear way it is like a muscle memory. The Tech asked him where he stayed and he responded by saying, “next to a church.” She then said, “do you know what street you were on?” and he said “it was next to a big square.” It went on like this for a while and I was finding myself getting a little hot under the collar. When I heard him say “it was right near the Spanish Steps” my “pushy New York Jew” came bursting out of me and I shouted, “The Spanish Steps are in Rome!” Then I asked him his name and I began discussing his trip with him. The first judgment I made and said aloud was “Oh, Richie, you were on one of those if it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium tours! But please, my friend, remember, the Spanish Steps are in Rome and so is the Vatican! (because he told me he had stayed in Florence, RIGHT near the Vatican)” After much “kibbitzing” (Yiddish for “joking around”), I finally figured out the neighborhood in Florence he had stayed in. He was adamant that had stayed around the corner from a “castle,” and when I finally figured out where he actually had stayed I made sure (in reverence to their history) he understood that the structure was by no means a castle, but it was in fact, a “Palace.”
None of this may seem funny to anyone but me. But when you are one week out of major surgery and all you feel, physically, is pain, and then you finally hear yourself laughing, it is a pretty darn delicious sound to experience. Both in sound and in body. To hear a man say he stayed in Florence right next to a Church may just sound plain silly. But add a little Jewish to it, (think Jackie Mason whether you are a fan or not) and it becomes just super super ticklish to the point of squinting and for me, specifically, stomach muscles tightening.
At first I found my innate “pushy New York Jew” coming out and very much wanting to set Richie straight about which city was which and I also found that I wanted to make sure he knew the facts about my beloved, Florence. But then, this man became my Guru. Why? Because I am in so much physical pain and as Norman Cousins’ work has shown, “laughter [truly] is the best medicine.”
None of it was mean-spirited. I stepped into my tribal richness with Richie. He, too, shares my own heritage and he understood my Yiddish, he could appreciate my inflections, my hard pushing back towards him. And what I saw was a particular aspect of my personality emerging in all its fullness, without any holding back, an aspect which had not had a chance to be expressed through any of the continuous moments of ongoing pain I have had since my surgery last week.
When I had my last surgery, 3 months ago, I awakened the night following the surgery, around 3 in the morning, and I vividly imagined a group of octogenarians in conversation with one another. I had to work very hard to not laugh hysterically by what I was telling them to say to one another. The reason I held back was because I had a dear friend staying over to care for me through the night and I didn’t wish to worry her with the noise I would have made. But I recall imagining a very active and vivid scenario and circumstances which were very funny to me and I was nearly choking with laughter from what I was scheming in my head.
These are moments I am truly grateful for because when the pain takes front and center stage, it is difficult to remember that I have very vivid imagination in my head. For instance, when I left Physical Therapy today, I realized that it wouldn’t have been implausible for me to have conjured up the entire dialogue Richie and I had just had.
So there it is.
I have a beautiful friend who I do not see very often but she no doubt, IS my Tribe. She told me that when I get sad during this recovery, I should just smile. As she said it, tears were rolling down my cheeks. And in my head I was thinking, “Oy vey. How in the world am I going to do that? That’s not how I work. I am not hardwired that way. I feel something and I need to feel it until I get to the other side of it.”
But I now understand a little piece of what she was trying to impart. Change the direction and see what happens.
Just see. Try it and see.
Sweet Chaverah, (Hebrew for “friend”) I will try it out and let you know what happens. Who knows, maybe I will actually LAUGH the pain away.