If you didn’t already know, I’m an asshole. I’m a dick. I’m distasteful. I’m disrespectful. I’m disdainful. And most notably, I’m disgusting.
Surprisingly, such comments did not come from my ex-girlfriend – no matter how warranted such a response may be from her. Instead, they came from my peers, the group of individuals I associate with daily. They are my schoolmates. They are my fellow students. They may even be my friends.
But it is these individuals, the ones who I converse with, share myself with, and even enjoy events with, which rebuke me under the veil of anonymity.
Because I dressed as one of the Twin Towers for Halloween.
If you need me to repeat it, I’m disgusting. I know.
But maybe, I am being premature in my own accusation. Maybe, instead, I’m just different.
So before you go about rallying to arms and firing off verbal pyrotechnics in an aggravated response, let me explain both why I did this, and perhaps more stupidly, why I would do it again.
Despite the chagrin, I want to first clarify that any response I may give now is neither out of annoyance nor frustration. Nor is the fact that I have been insulted – and perhaps insulted myself – the purpose of this piece. Rather, this entire response is directed to the fact that those denominations, true as they may be, insinuate recognition. It is as if by calling me an asshole, I am that exactly. Or because I’ve been called a dick, I must be one.
Maybe I am. Maybe not. I mean certainly I have an ass with a hole in it, and I equally have a dick, but that is not in question here. By flagrantly offending me, I am meant to feel as though they – the insults hurled like catapults – are all I am.
This conception has reigned true beyond time immemorial. If labels are what define a human being, then it must be the case that I become those labels, for a label only holds when numerous people utilize it. Logically: human beings are only defined by their labels, and labels are only defined by their words, so, human beings are defined by the words they are called. This is well known. Ask the “Jews”. Ask the “Blacks”. Ask the “Spicks”. Ask any race that has been marginalized, objectified, and made out to be something they are not. All of them will tell you that words become all they are, and perhaps more sickening, all they will ever be.
But when one hurls an insult, another person may do quite the opposite. For this reason, it matters what words people use to describe themselves and others. The same is true for what we do. Consider the common story of three men hauling bricks. When the first man is asked what he doing, he says, “Stacking bricks.” When the second man is asked what he is doing, he says, “Constructing a wall.” When the third man is asked what he is doing, he says, “Building a church.” Each performed the same task, but described it differently. Only through the words they used, though, did their actions have any value. That is to say, the value they put on their action.
So, too, does this apply to my costume. While some may have observed it to be insulting, and others may believe that the harsh words are a reflection of who I am because of what I chose to wear, I am writing this entire response under the presumption that I know myself better. I am Kacper Niburski, and one thing I am not is an asshole, no matter if I have one or not.
Let me explain.
People laugh. Others cry. Often it is best when there is a mixture of both. For what is laughter but a backwards cry, and what are tears but laughter contained in droplets? Sometimes tears bring one to laughter, and other times, laughter brings one to tears. One cannot be separated from the other, regardless of how much one laughs or cries about it.
Such reactions, both laughter and tears, are a response to fear – as far as I understand it. We laugh because we are afraid; we cry for very much the same reason. Sigmund Freud seemed to argue this point. When a dog can’t get out from a gate, Freud said, it will act scratch, dig, and a whole slew of other meaningless gestures as to find a way out. This, perhaps, is a sign of frustration, surprise, and fear neatly packed together. The dog is frustrated it cannot leave, it is surprised for very much the same reason, and it fears what the consequences of the gate are.
This is where I fit in, for like a dog scratching the cage, I’m frustrated, surprised, and afraid of the world. Not because of where it is currently, but rather where it has been, and even more so, where I have been in it. So, I use humour as a self-defense against the universe.
Before I explain further, the question follows then is there a restriction to humour, or does everything and anything become a joke?
In my eyes, insulting as they may be, there is not. Granted, I could never imagine anything humorous about Auschwitz, but otherwise I cannot think of a subject worth avoiding. Like Kurt Vonnegut said, with my own interjections: as Voltaire demonstrated, and gossip tabloids continually thrive on, total catastrophes are terribly amusing. You know, the Lisbon earthquake and Lindsay Lohan’s cocaine addiction are equally funny.
Yet while I cannot find anything funny about Auschwitz, I can say that my great grandparents, when describing the world after the war, a world where they had to crawl out from their haystack to see the rubble they called homes, where they found the ashes of their cousins scattered underneath their feet, where they figured out that most are too sweet to survive in this world, where they discovered that they could be killed so easily, where they saw babies being crammed into furnaces as a testimony to such a thought, where they were reunited with friends permanently painted a faded blue and white, where they lost the very world that they once knew including their possessions, their identities, and their humanity, they told my grandparents that they let out a laugh. A ghastly, hard, cold laugh.
Maybe, as God knows, that’s the soul seeking some relief. I’m not sure. But my greats grandparents laughed when they think about the war in very much the same way they did right after it. That’s the first thing they did.
But those are my great grandparent’s reflection of the world. Such thoughts cannot be my own because my great grandparent’s are only pieces of the mirror that form myself. In no way do they compromise my whole. So why, then, do I choose to laugh?
For very much the same reason: the world is a place where suffering is everywhere and laughter isn’t. That’s what the Buddha realized. And it made him enlightened. It’s no figure there’s a statue of the laughing Buddha, then.
How do I, a person of the privileged class who attends university, know this suffering?
While it is true I have never gone through a Holocaust, nor been subjected under immense cruelty, I have suffered. When I was three, my father’s business partner and best friend was shot to death on Valentines Day. My father tried to save his life – Richard’s life – but was met instead with cold lips, warm blood, and eyes that knew the world and back.
My father came home later that night. Told my mother what happened in detail. My brother and I listened. I have never seen a man so broken. I have never seen him cry so much.
And I have never seen him cry so much again.
Afterwards, my family went bankrupt due to the expenses associated with the murder, and the subsequent closing of the pizzerias. This lasted for two odd years of my life. During those years, we stood in Salvation Army donation lines. We went to soup kitchens. We joined welfare. We lived in shelters. We became adults, even the youngest of us.
But not once did we cry. Not once did we regret our fate, for some time early after the murder, while I was crying that I had to sell my toys at a garage sale, my father told me in Polish accent burdened by the weight of poverty, sadness, and death, “Crying will get you nowhere.”
So, I don’t cry anymore. I laugh – or at least try to.
While I understand that a blog may not be the best vehicle for such a personal story, I have tried to avoid vast details and even more troubled stories of my life. They are not what this post is about. Instead, the post is meant to answer the question why I dressed as I did.
Now, finally I can.
Because after going through tragedy, after realizing that winters can be cold, that Valentines Day is reserved for bleeding one’s heart out both literally and figuratively, that cruelty has no bounds, that a child is viewed just the same as an adult in the realm poverty, that not all men are equal except in their ability to die, that a hungry stomach cannot always go filled, that toys cannot always be bought, and that the whole world can go to shit, I no longer view tragedy through a lens of tears and seriousness. There is nothing serious about a tragedy. Instead, tragedies just are.
Does this outlook make my costume right? No, probably not. But through it’s creation, I was not saying the event was humourous; rather, the world is.
This does not take away from the importance and memorial of specific events. The insults know this well for they are fueled because people view the matter as both serious and important. And indeed all tragedies are.
But their sadness – and the consequent heartaches that follow sometime during the attempt to fill the void of happiness – are not rectified by the tears we cry, by the insults we throw, or by the sternness we maintain.
For once the tears have dried, the scars of insults have faded, and the sternness is lost in a memory, a child is left to hug his parents for both warmth and love because those are the only forms of wealth he can claim to have. At that point, laughter is all that he, and anyone else, has left.
And when he laughs, there comes the hope that after all that has happened, whether it be Auschwitz, the Twin Towers, or a childhood being prematurely stolen, the warm feeling inside, however fake and artificial it may be, can serve as a catalysis for a better day.
Or at least one where a stomach doesn’t hurt from the pains of suffering alone.