more than you can handle

“You’ll laugh about it later,” the teens said, as I cried in pain while they replayed my howling over and over on the tape recorder my sister’s friend had gotten for her birthday. I’d stubbed my eight-year-old toe on the foot board of the girl’s bed trying to jump to it from a nearby beanbag chair. Through my tears I didn’t believe their words. But they were right.

Since then I’ve laughed about many of the unfortunate circumstances in my life, some of them pretty heinous. So it made sense that a recent episode of This American Life struck me as both hilarious and poignant. In the first act, comedian Tig Notaro gets up on stage at Los Angeles’ Largo club and the first thing out of her mouth is a wry greeting, “Good evening, hello ... I have cancer, how are you? I have cancer.”

In the subsequent minutes we learn that days earlier she’d been diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer. She goes on to say, in a painfully funny way, that in the span of a few months she’d survived pneumonia, then a dangerous, intestinal bacteria, followed by the tragic and sudden death of her mother before being diagnosed with the cancer. Then she suffered a breakup.

Next she plays with irony on a subject that I return to often in my own writing. She starts by saying:

“But you know what’s nice about all of this is that God never gives you more than you can handle ... never ... never ... when you’ve had it, God goes, ‘alright, that’s it.’”

She continues, as contagious laughter spills onto the stage, to describe a conversation between God and his angels:

“I just keep picturing God going, ‘You know what ... I think she can take a little more,’ and then the angels are standing back going, ‘God, what are you doing? You’re out of your mind!’ and God was like, ‘No, no ... I really think she can handle this’ ... ‘But why ... why?’ ...’I don’t know, I just—you know—just trust me on this.’”

The image she conjured was totally absurd: God up there in heaven, his fists dialing up the knob on our pain, suffering and tragedy because he thinks we’re able to take a bit more. Ludicrous, and yet for many it is embraced as a mantra, perhaps some sort of coping mechanism—explanation—of why shitty things happen, a source of sustenance.

We've all gone through trials and tribulations, and sometimes it's nice to cut the tension. So if you’ve ever had it hard, or are going through a rough spot right now, I highly recommend listening to Tig for some perspective and a good healthy laugh:

This American Life, What Doesn't Kill You, Act One, Too Soon.


  1. All right, my soul sister. What the heck is going on between us????


    I'm serious. It's weird. (and my favorite slide on the video that I made says, "God WILL give you more than you can handle."

  2. If G-d really does have his hand on a "pain" dial, there's no way he's up there intentionally turning up the heat to fry our kids' brains. Maybe he just forgets to turn off the gas.

    We have that in common.