Once upon a time I laughed so hard that I peed my pants. True story.
And in retrospect it taught me everything I’d need to know about life. It just took me three decades—because I was nine at the time—to realize I should share it with others.
My childhood was filled with the kind of lessons you can’t learn in school. The ones taught through real life, social economic education. We were dirt poor, and it was a daily struggle for us. We were often without power, heat, or food. By the time I was 12, and the house we were living in burned to the ground (luckily we weren’t in it, but my dog wasn’t so fortunate), I knew perfectly well how to deal with challenge... You just keep going.
My mom worked her butt off, in low paying jobs, to support me and my two siblings, but she was often on her own. My dad had a brain aneurysm when I was six, where he spent a while in a comma, and people said he was never the same after. He was a bit of a gypsy, coming and going, repeatedly in trouble with the law and occasionally incarcerated. And later on, despite how much I rebelled and got into trouble—which was far too often—I rationalized it by thinking I’d still never be worse than the old-man.
As I grew up I believed it was because of the adversity I’d become stronger—and made it out. But I’ve since concluded it was what others taught me during those struggles that really made the difference.
And that is no more evident than the time I wet my pants from laughter.
I was in the back seat of the car, my dad was driving and we were on route to my hockey game. That alone was cause for celebration, but the best part was that two of my teammates were sitting beside me. I was beyond ecstatic. And before we got to the arena the laughter flowed until, unfortunately, the urine did too.
I was mortified. I didn’t say anything, and at the rink I refused to get out of the car. My friends, who apparently hadn’t noticed, just looked at me. My dad figured something was up so took them in and passed them off to the coach. When he came back I finally broke down and told him.
This is the point where things could have unfolded in a number of ways. He could have been mad at me for potentially ruining the cloth seats. And he could have tried to make me go inside and play the game anyway—where my team would have figured out my shame. That could be pretty devastating stuff for a nine year old kid.
But he didn’t do any those things. Instead he kind of smiled and said something about how things like this happen in life. Then he got in the car, drove us the 15 minutes home so I could change clothes, and drove me back to the hockey game. We arrived just in time for the start. No one ever knew; he kept it to himself. And I don’t recall the outcome of the game, but I’ll always remember how good it felt to step on the ice that day.
What I learned from that has been part of who I am since.
One minute we can be laughing at the top of our lungs, thinking life can’t get any better. Then, the next minute, we can be sitting in a puddle of our own urine, utterly humiliated, thinking life can’t get any worse. But if we don’t let ourselves get bogged down during the hard times, then we can be up and playing hockey a half-hour later.
And that’s all life is for any of us. Good times. Tough times... And perspective.
What many people see in me as optimism is maybe just an inherent persistence—a stubbornness to never give in to adversity. Because I know that life isn’t always fair; but we can still have an amazing one. I know that life will knock you down; but you can decide to get back up. My folks taught me that. And it’s helped me get through cancer and every other thing I’ve dealt with.