The Dark Comedy That is Our Lives
I never get too excited, it isn’t that I don’t look forward to good things, it’s that I know bad things happen. Like a car that breaks down on the way to a concert with all your friends in the car - no one plans for that! The freak-out that accompanies bad events is the part of the moment folks seem to not be prepared for. The pressure of a good thing, makes the bad thing seem even worse. There is a secret to dealing with life’s pitfalls, accidents, and grand mistakes - look at your life like it’s a Greek Comedy.
My mind is aware of the disastrous effect of a major screw up, so I don’t fear them, I expect them! In fact, it’s when you don’t think that something bad can happen that it’s the exact time shit happens! I can think back to times where my lack of imagination of the down side of things caused me the biggest heartbreaks and long-time consequences. As I look back, they are kinda funny in a dark way, and the life lessons they have taught me have stayed with me.
I showed up to tennis camp for the first time when I was 11. I was the strongest player in my junior development program and my father was a former tennis great, so I acted like my father. I was full of myself and bragged about my father’s tennis fame. The kids hated me! Even worse, I was so out-of-shape, I couldn’t keep up during the drills. After my first week there, they held a tournament for the campers and I told everyone I was going to show them. I certainly showed them.
In the second point of my first singles match, I twisted my ankle. I got killed! The match lasted under a half hour and I lost two quick sets. The other kids laughed at me. In the darkest sense, it was funny. And that’s how comedy works. But things changed when I became the victim, and this story’s plot had not completely unfolded.
A French camper, who spoke little English and the other campers felt odd around, was my only friend at the camp. I made him laugh. He was a few years older and played tennis poorly, so he was glad to have me as a partner. The campers, including my sister and her friends, laughed at us. We looked ridiculous on the court: the tall awkward French kid and the chubby loud mouth with the sprained ankle. The two of us had difficulty hitting two balls in a row, but we could serve and, turns out, we could play the net.
By some miracle, we won our first match in a tie-break. I had a good serving day, and the lanky Frenchman reached everything at net. In a twenty minute talk following the match, Eric, the French kid, did his best to describe how we should play. He basically said we should play like they did on grass. It just took a long time to get the idea across. So we served and volleyed every chance we could and lobbed ground strokes to keep us in the point. We actually came in third, losing to the winning team in the semi-finals. It was the first time I had won anything, but I had lied about winning tournaments, so I couldn’t tell anyone. Looking back, it’s humorous and sad at the same time.
My friend Evan was an aggressive driver and we both laughed at it. Stopping short to make the car behind you stop short was one of his favorite tricks. No slight on the road went unnoticed or unpunished. He was a terminator and drove a big heavy van to boot so people stayed away from him on the road. I copied some of the things he did on the road, but I didn’t go to the same extremes. I had started student teaching in Lynbrook and I was forced to drive down Peninsula Boulevard. I hated this stretch of road and was forced to deal with tailgaters every morning. I had had enough and I was going to do something out of Evan’s playbook. Little did I realize the dark comedy that is my life!
I stopped short and then zipped ahead, making the aggressive male driver behind me lock up his breaks. I laughed, he got what was coming to him. The not angry aggressive driver was not going to be outdone, he wanted to get even. Racing past me at near 100 mph, he passed me and swerved into the lane ahead of me. Then he locked up his brakes as he skidded to the middle of the road, leaving me nowhere to go but the side rail. My car jumped the rail and my car was stuck. I had almost died - without the guard rail I would have gone face first into oncoming traffic.
The car was towed as the ambulance took me away. I missed work that day and the next few, and when I returned to driving, I felt fear behind the wheel. Gone was the reckless freedom of the road, and in it’s place was a place full of danger and potential threats. In time I would relax again while driving, but the whole episode was funny in a dark way, and teaches that “shit happens” and try to be ready for it.
The darkest dark comedy moment of my life has to do with my mother. She instructed me on how to use my new son to get my wife’s father to treat me differently. Her skill in detecting and pointing out other’s peoples weaknesses was uncanny and she used the skill well. So when my parents started giving me a hard time, I used the playbook my mother taught me. At first it worked, then she realized what was going on. “It was for your father-in-law, not me!” The fights never stopped after that moment and eventually we stopped talking. She died without us talking again. My wife’s father is an ever present rock for my family, never needing any prodding to be with my children. Funny, in a dark twisted way?
The secret is to not get too excited and don’t put too much expectation into any event. Life is a tricky thing, and everyone knows a different way to travel through time. I do my best now to laugh at life’s quirky moments. Make space in your mind to be part of the world around you, listen, smell, touch, taste, and life will be a rich as it can be. Make each moment personal and meaningful, for time is fleeting and your life is happening right now!