HUMOUR – is one of the most useful tools that live in my blind tradie toolkit. I honestly don’t know how I would face the barrage of internal frustrations as a vision-impaired person or the awkward social transactions with sighted people if not for humour. Finding the humour within difficult situations is not a flippant response to tragedy or loss, it is not denial of the truth either.
Humour is a tool that has the capacity to open the heart and unlock the gift of laughter to any soul seeking the truth. Seeing the ‘funny’ side of life when it could also be seen as ‘tragic’ is a tool worth its weight in gold.
"Through humour, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it."
I think I was fortunate to realise at the time of my diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at the tender age of fifteen that there was one ultimate quality impending blindness could not take away from me: a darkening horizon foreshadowed great loss but it would not smother my sense of humour.
It was up to me – whether to laugh or to cry – and often, after the storm clouds of frustration had cleared, a rainbow of laughter appeared. With the realisation that as a young girl life was much harder if taken too seriously, I would adopt the wisdom of humour, the colours of laughter.
I have found humour to be a wonderful mechanism that plucks out the negative weed-thought and encourages the germ of good thoughts to sprout instead.
I was also fortunate that my parents loved British comedy and exposed their two children to the satire of The Goon Show, the antics of Monty Python, the insanely funny Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, and later, the best of British sarcasm in the TV program, Fawlty Towers.
When life’s frustrations challenge my sense of humour to action, the little ditty from The Life of Brian echoes merrily in my head...always look on the bright side of life...whistle, whistle...
Laughter is a Gift
If you can use internal eyes to peer through the hardships to a surreal vantage point where the irony of an awkward situation is revealed, you can shine humour onto the embarrassed faces of all involved. Let me explain...
It was a cheerful autumnal day, a thick carpet of leaves covered the quiet Melbourne Street. I swept a neat swathe through the leaf litter, tapping a path while most probably singing a happy ditty about ‘look out, bin...take a step...watch out, pole...please stop, car...’ when suddenly, my foot stepped into a soft patch in the pavement.
Obviously I had not seen a small sign on the grass that read WET CEMENT. Nor had I noticed the man crouched down over a patch of pavement and so, I delivered a dainty footprint smack bang in the middle of his artwork.
A few colourful expletives escaped the man’s mouth. I braced myself expecting the council worker to jump up and threaten me with his trowel and confront me face to face. I stood motionless, foot sinking deeper into the wet cement.
The mumbling man took a sideways glance at the carbon fibre cane poised by his knee.
“Oh sorry, love,” he apologised, throwing down the trowel, suddenly changing his tune.
His readiness to forgive my transgression as he guided me away from the wet patch of cement, joking “it’s all good, love”, (when I knew it wasn’t) and wishing me a good day, relieved my embarrassment and made me smile. Being blind certainly does often work in my favour some days.
The more I relax into my skin as a woman with blindness, the more insights I glean into the psychology of men. Ah ha! – got your attention now? Well, I have a fascinating discovery to share with you. We all know that a lighthearted approach when meeting someone of the opposite sex for the first time can ease tension but I have found, without fail, that men greet a woman like myself (with a measure of blindness) in one of TWO ways. It goes a little like this:
“Hi. I’m...” he says.
“Hi, I’m Maribel. I’m vision-impaired.” I add, thrusting an over-friendly hand in his direction in case he is standing there with his hand in mid air. Oh, no, he wasn’t. Oh well, we shake hands anyway and I cover my embarrassment by adding, “I can’t see you, sorry.”
Now it is over to him. I wait with a smile, knowing this man will offer one of two responses to help ease the tension or to hide his surprise.
“Oh. That’s a pity. So you can’t see how good looking I am?”
OR... he will say,
“Don’t worry. You’re not missing much.” Indeed, laughter is a gift we give to ourselves and to others.
Many single moons ago, I went into a local pub with a girlfriend. As we weaved past tables and chairs together through the chaos, my friend plonked me down on a stool by the bar. She recognised two male friends sipping pints of beer, minding their own business until we came along.
“Hey guys. What are you doing here?” She spoke a tone too loud. “Meet my friend, Maribel”
One of the fellows swung around on his stool, offering his hand which I did not see.
My friend burst into embarrassed laughter. “That’s not going to help. She can’t see you, she’s blind”
Reaching over a little closer and taking my hand in his, he said with a drunken slur,
“Don’t worry love, in a couple of hours I’ll be just as blind as you are!”
When humour stays at home
With all respect and for the sake of my blind friends, I want to acknowledge that life can seem far from being a joke – that life can be cruel and the sun does not shine every day. It is often the small little thing, like the straw that breaks the camel’s back that can break down all our defences and have us in tears.
Only yesterday, I experienced the irony of humour staying at home while drafting this article on the brilliant tool that lives in my toolkit. I must have picked up the wrong handbag from the hall stand (void of my tools) before I left the house because when I was shopping at our local supermarket, battling my way through the maze of confused shoppers, uncontrollable trolleys and the worst of 1980s music, someone had taken away my basket of goodies that had taken ages to locate – and I didn’t see this as funny.
I rummaged around in my bag but humour was no where to be found. In fact, I was outraged and almost went crazy with indignation. I considered throwing down the large box of Corn Flakes in my arms to the ground to use as my soapbox.
“Listen up, people. Who stole my basket? Don’t you know how hard it is for a blind person to find anything in your sighted world?”
I huffed and I puffed and I tried to blow away the injustice of blindness but all that came tumbling down was my own defeated attitude. I raced home, crying as I whacked the cane hard on the pavement and crawled into bed, sheltering under the doona.
“So where were you today?” I scolded my sense of humour. “I could have done with a little bit of help from you? To my surprise, humour replied wisely:
“Blindness is an attitude. You can choose to laugh or to cry. When you make a choice to see your life as limited and full of obstacles, it’s pretty hard not to cry.”
Feeling less angry with the world and more willing to see humour’s point of view, I peeked out from under the doona. “So you think I have a choice?”
“You sure do.” Humour began to laugh. “Man, I would have loved to have seen you on your Corn Flake soap box!”
“Now that would have been funny,” I agreed with a smile.
“See. You got it,” said Humour, tickling my funny bone once more.
" On this spot 1st April 1780 - Nothing Happened"
© 2013 Maribel Steel