I Bet I Wouldn't Be Laughing So Hard If It Was Me In That FireCommentary • Opinion • death • ISSUE 37•02 • Jan 24, 2001 By Greg Gund Greg Gund Listen, I know in my heart this isn't funny. If the tables were turned, I wouldn't be cracking up the way I am now. I definitely wouldn't be laughing so hard if it was me in that fire. I mean, humor depends on one's perspective, right? To the guy who's running around shrieking, flailing his arms in a frantic effort to put out the flames enveloping him, a hearty chuckle is probably the last thing on his mind. But if that poor guy were a bystander like me, watching from a safe distance as a heating-fuel truck crashed into a church and turned someone who picked the wrong day to wear a nylon jacket into a human shish-ka-bob, he probably would've fallen down on the spot with helpless laughter, just like I did. Life is short, so it's important to see the lighter side of things. But if it were me watching the spreading pool of flaming petroleum melt the soles of my shoes to the blacktop, I concede that I may not have seen the humor. Would I laugh if it were my fillings liquefying in my mouth? Would I chortle as hard if it were my lungs filling with white-hot flames? I'd like to think so. But I realize it's tough to see the humor when your glasses are oozing like taffy across your boiling eyes. It's moments like this, when I'm laughing so hard I feel like I might die shortly after this burning guy does, that I also try to take stock. Sure, there's something undeniably uproarious about a man engulfed in flames, but am I laughing for the right reasons? Am I cracking up because there's a little bit of me burning with him? Deep inside, is my own heart deep-frying in my chest? Can everyone around me smell the metaphorical roast-pork odor given off by the third-degree gasoline burns on my soul? If that's why I'm laughing, it's okay, isn't it? This is an important question. And how far is too far to take a joke? Or, in this case, a fire? If the sight of this burning guy running out of the church is funny, where do you draw the line? Was it wrong for me to laugh at those two nuns welded together by the searing heat? Should I have suppressed my giggling at the three-foot-tall pack of human torches that used to be a Sunday-school class? If I do that, can I still grin at the guy punctured by thousands of smoldering shards of stained glass? I don't know. I guess you could say I have a "sick" sense of humor. I see someone shrieking while the burning flesh bubbles off his bones, and I'm tickled. Is that so wrong? I mean, if you could have seen the terrified look on this guy's face, I think you'd have been in stitches too. Then again, maybe all those horrified witnesses just need to lighten up. Those firefighters, what with their fun-stopping hoses, are real wet blankets. Not one of those guys so much as cracked a smile the whole time they were pulling blackened, twisted victims out of the place. They may have been saving lives, but they were also ruining it for folks like me. More than anyone, it's the EMTs who should know how to laugh at stuff like this. Haven't they heard the old comedy formula that comedy is tragedy plus time? Sure, less than 30 minutes have passed since First Methodist became a blazing inferno, but these are accelerated times. It only took the burn victims of the Great Chicago Fire a few weeks to gather around and share a hearty guffaw over the whole thing. And that was 1871. In this modern age, a person should be able to laugh about a church fire within four, five minutes, tops. As I said, though, perspective is everything. I really hope that if I were the one on fire, I'd be able to see the humor in it. Judging from the way that guy who's on fire is screaming, he obviously doesn't. He's clearly in a great deal of mortal pain. But even so, he should feel good knowing he's brought a little levity into at least one person's life. Perhaps I'm fooling myself, but if life ever handed me a straight line like being doused with a couple dozen gallons of flaming petroleum distillate, I'd like to think I'd do my level best to make the most of it, like this guy on fire has. But for now, I'm glad to be sitting here safe on this comfortable park bench with my bottled water, just enjoying the show.