The Comedy of Tragedy

This week I saw a video of a crippled man ramming an elevator shaft door with his motorized cart before busting the door open and plummeting to his death.  It was hilarious.

Or at least that’s what the internet tried telling me.  Something about, “Ha ha… what a moron!” and “Darwin Award Winner 2012!” and “That’s what you get when you can’t control your temper, buddy!”

Maybe I need to lighten up, but I don’t laugh at Darwin Awards anymore.  I used to, but in the midst of releasing a mighty guffaw of superiority, a humbling thought approached me:

We don’t know.  We don’t know just what drives an individual to do something fatally stupid.  We can’t know.  We can know the superficial reasoning, but we can’t know the internal pathos behind a person’s acts beyond what we can deduce from the outside.

We know the crippled man barely missed getting on the elevator, and that’s why he started ramming the door.  Sure, it was somewhat inconsiderate of the woman who closed the door on him.  Sure, it was stupid of the man to ram the door.  Sure it was irrational.  But maybe he was having a really shitty day.  Maybe he was sick of having useless legs.  Maybe the missed elevator was a mere straw that broke the back of an otherwise troubled man.  Sometimes people just snap.

Maybe.  We don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck in traffic and have fantasized about slamming as hard as I can on the gas pedal in the middle of gridlock.  It’s a stupid, senseless thought, but it is powerful.  It would be a desperate attempt to cry out to the world about the sheer amount of time we spend in a motorized box going nowhere, and the psychological trauma that we, as a society, might afflict upon ourselves by wasting the one resource we can never get back (time) alongside the millions of other ants traveling to and from mindless jobs and errands.  That’s how I would see it – my hypothetical gas-pedal tantrum.  The news would see it as some bastard losing his shit, and people would laugh at how dumb and crazy I am as I get carted off to prison for recklessness.  The only two things that stop me are empathy and the understanding that traffic is a finite problem.  It has to end.  I have faith that my trivial troubles won’t last forever.  Perhaps we could call that “sanity.”

But what if I didn’t have that assurance?  Would I hit the gas then?  Would I ram an elevator?  I don’t know, I haven’t been there.

Or maybe the elevator man was having an okay day.  Maybe he was just laughably dumb, and made one stupid decision too many.  Chalk one up for Darwin, right?

But you know what’s great about being alive?  We are guaranteed the privilege of retrospection, and therefore we are given the opportunity for reconciliation.  Dead people don’t get that opportunity.  I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my past that I’m fortunate enough to look back on and realize they’re stupid.   The only difference between me and the guy at the bottom of an elevator shaft is that my stupidity has yet to cross paths with the ruthless finger of Misfortune.  Let’s not pretend that you’ve never done anything stupid, you anonymous internet masses hiding behind your derisive laughter.  The only reason you’re able to laugh in the first place is because once, somewhere, you got lucky.

And remember, people don’t die in a vacuum.  They die amongst friends and family.  The least we could do is be respectful of that.

Perhaps I need to lighten up.  Maybe laughing at the tragic misfortune of others is how we cope against the dark reality of how fragile our lives are.  Perhaps we should celebrate laughter from all catalysts, because if we took everything seriously, then daily life would be nothing more than pale misery.  Perhaps laughing at tragedy is the poetic expression of an ironic existence – one in which we have been created to place weight on such lightness and lightness on such weight.

And yet, I can’t help but feel, with all my loves and trials, joys and sorrows, from the story of my own birth to the hope of my life’s trajectory in the present day, that if everything I’ve gone through was trivialized by some ridiculous fate like falling down an elevator shaft, I would be pissed.

Or maybe I would laugh heartily from above, who knows?

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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11 Responses to The Comedy of Tragedy

  1. Finally uploaded the photos my husband took of our trip to the zoo. I was feeling really bad for the position we put wild animals in. Then I read your post and thought maybe there is hope for empathy out there and I totally get you on traffic jams – that’s why I try to ride my bike when I can. And I would be pissed too – though I would probably laugh afterwards. But we shouldn’t laugh. We should try to be more kind – no matter what they look like, talk like, or smell like. We’ve all had our bad days, weeks, and years. Great post!

  2. Mark Carlson says:

    I’ve never been able to laugh at the Darwin Awards, either.

  3. ptigris213 says:

    I don’t know how old you are, but I suspect you are much younger than I (in my late fifties). I suspect I’ve been there and done there that long before you were born. Nevertheless, you write with a maturity of someone far older than your real age. You strike a perfect balance between the absurd, the laughable, and sometimes…like this time..with a profound sense of humility and empathy. Congratulations.

  4. Really great post! And I agree with ptigris213, you do write with a maturity that parallels nothing I’ve seen thus far in my blog searching.

  5. Thanks for posting this, it shows beautifully how critical it is that we remember to think. Just stopping and thinking brings us back to our humanity. You write true. best wishes.

  6. desi83 says:

    Wow, very introspective. I will admit that I have laughed at Darwin awards. But it is because I know that it is a possibility of how I will die since we are all capable of stupidity, as you said. I happen to be quite clumsy, so my mom has always been afraid I might die from some clumsy misfortune. It is funny in its irony.

  7. Salina says:

    This reminds me of the phrase, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”


    “Everyone appears [here] unknowingly and involuntarily for just a short stay.”

  8. Salina says:

    This reminds me of a quote I wrote down recently from a Chinese source, which I can’t quite remember right now: “It is impossible to know the results of your actions.”

  9. Salina says:

    That’s odd. I posted that comment about it being impossible to know the results of our actions on your post about music becoming noise, but it showed up here, right under my last comment.

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