This weekend gone, I went home back to the West Midlands from Southampton, the first time I’d done so in quite a while. Part of the fun is the train journey, which is always incredibly packed (every student is going home for the weekend). As a result, I ended up in the spaces between the seating areas of the train, amongst the luggage racks and bicycle stands.
As it turned out, the luggage racks were fairly empty, and a few people had taken the initiative of hoisting themselves up onto the upper levels, or sitting down on the lower levels, and just generally using them for seats. I thought I’d join them, so I hoisted myself up onto the upper level, like the person next to me.
The person next to me had a lot of head room. Unfortunately, I failed to notice the presence of a large AC unit above my head. I ended up vertically head-butting the thing, fell of the rack, slipped and landed on the floor. The four people on racks with me subsequently dissolved into peals of ill-concealed laughter. At first, I was incredibly embarrassed, until I saw the funny side. It didn’t hurt that much, and it must have been a pretty damn comical fall, because one woman was laughing so hard she actually dropped her phone. The other three guys were just doubled up.
All I could do was smile and say, “Fuck my life,” which is, in my opinion, the only graceful way to handle it. The woman turned to me, after she had recovered from her fit, and said, “That made my day, that did!”
Before I had just been taking it well to recover some dignity, but when she said that, I now began to appreciate it for its inherent value in laughter. I had cheered up someone, given them a story to tell, and allowed four strangers to share a common moment of happiness. It felt not only acceptable, but good.
I feel as if I learnt something from this - it is okay to look stupid. Once in a while. And when it happens, understand something – they are not laughing at you. They are laughing at what just happened. If it had happened to anyone else, they would have laughed as well. Although, it’s fair to say, few others would have failed to notice the gigantic whirring contraption above their heads like I did.
By the end of the journey, the woman was still occasionally bursting into mini-laughing bursts. Any time she caught my eye, she’d burst out laughing. I didn’t take offense. It was pretty hilarious. At the end of the day, all I had done was make four strangers, and one person very familiar to myself, me, laugh. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Trying constantly to preserve your dignity is a losing battle. Let it crash and burn occasionally, but only if the end result is worth it. Thinking over my experiences of others who have been in the same situation, in embarrassing situations, something becomes clear to me: Those who let themselves look silly sometimes and take it into their stride may feel weaker than those around them. But almost universally, they are perceived as stronger.
And that is fine by me.