The word means: pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
Because my family has a habit of turning everything that happens to us into a story, this word often describes my reaction to situations once I know that everyone is alive and not badly wounded.
I used it last night in a quick post I sent to the Bellingwood FB page. I’d just finished writing a bad / hilarious scene. Polly ended up laughing because sometimes you just have to see the hilarity in a situation.
My husband doesn’t necessarily see things the same way I do. Especially when he’s the one who needed sympathy and all I could do was laugh.
One day I was at work when the phone rang. I don’t remember why he wasn’t at work, but that day he was at home.
We had a recumbent exercise bicycle that he really liked using. All of a sudden, as he was pedaling away, the welds holding the seat to the base snapped and he fell backward.
Now remember, my first question to him was to discover whether he was okay. That’s important. Right? Of course it is. He told me that he hadn’t been hurt, so from that point on, this was prime fodder for a story and I started to giggle as my mind’s eye created the scene. A dresser was directly behind him and when the back snapped, he hit that dresser.
I tried not to laugh louder than a quiet giggle, but the next part of the story did me in and I let loose with a howl of laughter.
A crafty-painted clay flowerpot had been sitting on top of that dresser and when he hit it, the flowerpot fell off, cracking into pieces when it hit his head, scattering around him on the floor. There he was, sprawled, his head against a dresser, bright orange clay pieces surrounding him, parts of a bicycle destroyed underneath him.
I lost it. There couldn’t be a better cartoon-image than that. As I laughed and laughed, my office-mate looked at me, wondering what was going on. I did my best to describe the situation and apparently, I’m a horrible wife. As I related what had happened, he saw the humor, but not as much as I did. Max saw none of it. When I realized he wasn’t laughing, I made sure to ask again if he was okay. Yes he was, but it surprised him that I wasn’t offering more sympathy.
Seriously? Can’t you see how funny this is?
Okay, I’m a bad wife.
But I am definitely able to define schadenfreude.
When we were very young, my brother, on his hands and knees (I’m not telling you that I was on his back, riding him like a horse), was chasing around the dining room and when I told him to look up, we managed to run him straight into a door sill, cracking his forehead solidly and causing enough damage that Mom and Dad needed to take him to the emergency room where he got six stitches. It took Jamie a lot of years before he was able to laugh about that story. While he remembered the pain, all I saw (and by the way, so did Mom and Dad) was the story that existed around the experience and hilarious little *snake* right in the middle of his forehead.
I promise to always make sure you’re okay and if you need me to care for you and about you, that’s the very first thing I’ll do. But if you’re fine, maybe a little bumped and bruised? I’m going to find the humor in it and tell the story later. Much later, if need be!
That’s schadenfreude for you.