The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

May 28, 2011

Mike Pound: Laughing in face of disaster signals we’re not giving up

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have been writing a Sunday humor column in this paper for some time now.

When my first Sunday column appeared in this paper, my 13-year-old daughter, Emma, was 3. Since that time, with the exception of the annual Mother’s Day column my wife writes, I have never missed a Sunday column.

I’m not patting myself on the back here; writing the Sunday column is part of my job, so the fact that I’ve done my job is nothing to toot my horn about. Besides, I don’t own a horn.

But, for the first time in nearly 10 years, I don’t feel like writing a humor column. Oh sure, I can attempt a joke now and then, but to spend an entire column writing about how my wife thinks I’m a moron, how my daughter ignores me or how my dog is trying to eat one of our cats is not something I feel like doing.

I’m pretty sure it’s not something you want to read.

I have seen people laugh in the past week. We’ve laughed in the newsroom. But it’s the sort of laughter that masks the tears just around the corner. Last Sunday night, in the immediate aftermath of the tornado, I saw four emergency workers stop and laugh in the middle of a truly horrible chore.

As out of place as it seemed, I understood their laughter. Sometimes, it’s either laugh, cry or go crazy, and the four workers didn’t want to cry and didn’t have time to go crazy.

One of the good things about tears, I’ve been told, is that they help clear out our eyes. Laughter, I think, does the same thing for the brain. In times like this a little bit of laughter releases all that stuff fighting for space in our brain.

The things we’ve laughed about at the Globe this past week have been fairly random. Some of these things even had a tint of black humor to them. But laughing is not the same as feeling funny.

Sunday’s tornado took a newsroom employee from us.

It destroyed the homes of nine other newsroom folks and nine other employees at the paper. I’m not sure when we’ll totally feel funny again. It’s hard to feel like you’re on top of the world when so many people you know have had their world blown away.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure we will feel funny again. If we don’t, it means we have given up. We’re not giving-up-kind of people. We have a strong history of bouncing back from horrible tragedies in this country. We’ve survived “Dancing With the Stars” for example.

See, that was a joke. Not a good one, but at least it was a joke.

I guess it would be nice if there was a book to tell us when it is OK to laugh after a horrible tragedy.

“Let’s see. You had a EF-5 tornado rip through your town. Let’s check the book. Here it is ... EF-5 tornado ... Four weeks.”

There isn’t such a book.

It’s up to us to figure out when it’s time to laugh again, and I think we’ll do that. One day we’ll find ourselves laughing between tears. A day or two later will find ourselves laughing more than crying. And then one day the laughs will far outpace the tears. The tears will always be there, of course, but eventually they won’t flow as freely as they once did.

But until then, we just play it by ear. We let our emotions tell us what to do. And today, my emotions tell me that I don’t want to write a humor column.

Someday I will, I just don’t know when. It might be next week and it might be next month.

But I will write one because the alternative is to give up.

We don’t do that.

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Tornado: Mike Pound