Interrupting the darkness with laughter

This story appears in the Reconciliation in Chicago feature series. View the full series.

by David Kelly

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Editor's note: "Reconciliation in Chicago" is NCRonline's newest blog series, a weekly blog from the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a ministry of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood based in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Each post will feature hopeful reflections from the ministry's staff and volunteers, as they share their stories about working with youth and families affected by violence and incarceration.

"Reconciliation in Chicago" is published Mondays at the feature series page Reconciliation in Chicago.

"You look lost," Jonathan, who is a staff member, said to me.

"Just pensive," I responded. "I'm in my head."

"That's me all the time," another said. He went on to say how he was always thinking, always in his head.

It had been a particularly stressful day, the kind of stress and strain that takes its toll.

Later in the day, Precious Blood Sr. Donna Liette asked some of our youth to sit with her as she welcomed a group of "seniors" coming for a visit. We often have groups and schools coming to the center to learn about our work and restorative justice. In welcoming what she thought was a group of high school seniors to Precious Blood Center, she (and the youth) noticed that there were no young people. They thought, how many adults were needed to chaperone a group of youth?

Then they realized that the group was not high school seniors, but seniors -- as in senior citizens. It was cause for laughter from both sides and the heaviness of the day was lifted.

This work can be hard. Trauma work, which is so much of what we do, takes its toll. Humor and laughter is a gift amid the stress and strain.

A young man who is facing 50 years in prison at the age of 15 does the "DLow shuffle" -- a dance move that, along with the lyrics, is just silly enough to bring laughter to the whole group. Young men gathered in a peacemaking circle at Cook County Juvenile Detention Center find their pain interrupted.

Humor is salve for the open wounds of suffering.

I am often asked how I maintain my health in the midst of so much violence -- so many tough stories. "How is it that you do not burn out?"

I cling to a spirituality that makes sense in this environment; the spirituality of the Precious Blood enables us to place the story of hurt and disappointment in a larger story that does not gloss over the pain, but offers a story of hope.

It is not the joke-telling humor, nor the humor at the expense of another, but the humor that brings us up out of the darkness -- if but for a moment. Seniors who are truly seniors -- senior citizens, a young man who does a dance step (DLow shuffle) while facing an impending 50 years in prison -- these are the joyous outbursts of laughter that interrupt the pain.

How often have I heard the mothers who gather together to support one another burst out in fits of laughter. It is not that they have forgotten the pain of having a child incarcerated; it is that, just for that moment, they realize that they are not alone and can see beyond the darkness to light, hope and joy!

If you have been to the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation Center, you know that our offices are in small open cubicles; laughter and humor often interrupt the strain of walking alongside those who suffer so greatly. We often gather around the table for lunch where we celebrate the joy that is so much a part of this ministry -- a joy that comes as we embrace a spirituality of the blood. That joy and humor is shared; how often people who come to the Center remark that there is "joy in this place."

As all of us work to live out the call to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Let us remember that our spirituality also calls us to be ambassadors of joy and hope!

[Precious Blood Fr. David Kelly is executive director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.]

A version of this blog previously appeared on the website of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on June 16, 2014. NCRonline presents the blog in collaboration with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.

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