I remember when I was living in Juba, I had a friend who invited me over to watch a movie. She had gotten ahold of a particularly funny movie about acapella singing that was popular at the time. We had dinner and then ate M&M’s for dessert as we watched. I remember just dying of laughter all throughout the movie. And afterwards, I remember feeling like I had forgotten how to laugh. At that point, I had been living in South Sudan for about a year, and couldn’t remember laughing like that ever in that year.
Was I even allowed to laugh in South Sudan?
About three months later, just after the war broke out, I was chatting with a friend online. I asked him how he and his family were coping. He told me they were grieving and praying, but that they were also continuing to tell stories and jokes. He said, “We keep smiling despite the circumstances.” I will never forget those words. Never ever ever. They inspired me and baffled me all at once.
Then, another month after that, I finally got to reconnect with my colleagues in Uganda. We had been scheduled to go on retreat for Christmas on an island off the coast of Kenya, but it never happened. We ended up meeting in Uganda instead, at a guesthouse by Lake Victoria. I hadn’t seen my South Sudanese colleagues for almost two months, and had been worried about their safety the entire time. I was more than excited to see their faces in real life, and to express my sorrow over the situation.
I met one colleague before the others arrived and we excitedly greeted each other and thanked God he was alive and all that. Then I proceeded to ask him eight million questions about what had been going on. As he talked to me about the situation in Juba, he laughed. I was so confused. There I was, somber, expressing concern about how horrific the situation was and there he was, laughing. I remember asking him even, how he was laughing. He just laughed again as if he knew some secret about life I didn’t.
“WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!” I thought.
The other day I saw a video about dancing, Ghanaian pallbearers. As I watched, I caught myself catching myself smiling and feeling a little awkward about it. You know what I mean? I was like, yeah! What a great idea! And then immediately I would think, wait. Hold on, this is a funeral we’re talking about. What about the mourning and grieving part? And then I would go back to, but yes! Celebrate life!
Life and death and joy and sorrow and beauty and terror and AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A little over a year ago, I was talking about this joy and sorrow stuff with a friend. My friend told me I was getting too deep and then proceeded to tell me a bizarre story about a turtle who made magical hats for birds who had forgotten how to fly because they had lost hope. As I was being told the story, I was dying laughing. Afterwards, again, I remember feeling like I had forgotten how to laugh. This was about six months after I had returned to the United States from South Sudan, and I couldn’t remember laughing like that the entire six months.
Was I even allowed to laugh after my experience in South Sudan?
I’m starting to notice a pattern here.
As I move through the last part of this transition, I’m realizing the importance of cultivating a sense of humor in life, no matter what the circumstances.
Bear with me when I try to make jokes.