“If you can’t laugh at yourself, you may be missing the colossal joke of the century.” – Barry Humphries
I wrote yesterday that the Messink’s are storytellers. As far back as I can remember, we’ve kept each other (and ourselves) entertained by being able to turn our experiences into a story worth telling. I’ve learned over time that it’s a rare talent. Rarer still, it seems that the stories that stand the test of time are the ones that focus on the teller’s personal experiences with failure and embarrassment. So it’s the stories of awkward encounters, self-defecation, and disastrous first dates that are the ones most requested each year at family gatherings. But why is that?
The ability to joke about oneself, to look back on past trials and faults with a smile and laugh, is a beautiful trait. It is one I’ve been exposed to all my life, through the stories of my parents and relatives. It was a constantly repeated sentiment in my house that to live was to fail or face embarrassment. It’s a feeling all of us have shared at one point or another. So why would we, my mom would say, not laugh at ourselves? Because who hasn’t farted audibly in a crowded elevator after trying to release a little gas? We’ve all, at one point or another, responded “you too” to a waiter telling us to enjoy our meal. And I know I can’t be the only one who’s fallen down a flight of stairs while on my way to class.
It’s a gift, really, to look at these moments and find that bit of joy. The people who do this are easy to find: they’re the ones who laugh at the embarrassing stories they tell about themselves. It’s much easier (and a lot more enjoyable) to find amusement in our everyday moments of clumsiness and social ineptitude than to look on them with shame. In order to practice what I preach, I’ll share a family favorite with you that involves me, an upset stomach, and the congregation of St. Gilbert’s church.
My family and I used to be avid church goers: every Sunday, we could be found sitting somewhere near the front row. Back then, we were well manicured, dressed to the nines to show our devotion to the Big Man Upstairs. But on this particular day, my button down felt a little too tight. Beneath it, my back was like a slip and slide, my body radiating heat. I could feel my stomach turning, tightening like a fist each time we stood or knelt at the pew. I was younger than but still old enough to know where the bathroom was and the importance of getting to it on time. But instead, I decided to weather the storm and focus on the priest.
Bad idea. As the priest held up the Eucharist, proclaiming the glory of God and the validity of the sacrament, my love for Jesus surged in me. It was so strong, in fact, that I could barely hold it in. So then, in front of the entire congregation, it poured out of my mouth, shooting like a projectile all over the pew in front. My mom, reacting to the moment, lifted me and spun me around, desperately looking for an escape: vomit flew, like water from a child-sized sprinkler, in a circle, falling at the feet of shocked, disgruntled church-goers. They watched, young and old, as my mother led us out of the church, returning with our white undershirts to clean my thick, foul-smelling mess. All in the middle of the Holy Sacrament.
So there you have it, a story of a personal embarrassment that (hopefully) managed to make you laugh. To this day, I can’t help but chuckle at the faces of the elderly men, dressed in crisp grey suits, shuffling backwards to avoid the spray of sick that fell at their feet. Always in line with what she taught, my mother had us dressed and back in church the following week; admittedly, it was several rows further back and we waited until after church to eat anything… but we still went. So next time you accidentally walk into the women’s bathroom or call someone by the wrong name an hour before they correct you, I hope you’ll laugh at yourself as your face burns red with embarrassment.
We all have stories like this one. If you’d like to share, we at the Daily Cup of Joe would love to hear it! Either send your embarrassing moment to our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post a comment on this article for everyone’s enjoyment. And, as always, stay safe and hopeful!