Humor has a way of bringing people together. It unites people. In fact, I'm rather serious when I suggest that someone should plant a few whoopee cushions in the United Nations.
BEHIND THE SCARS: ROBERT (BOBBY) HENLINE
Someone once said that comedy is about telling the bitter truth with a sense of good timing. "I was blessed with a good sense of humor," Robert Henline tells me. "And I think that has helped me more than anything else."
Robert Henline is one of those rare people
you meet in life that at once makes you
laugh hysterically and simultaneously
reminds you to be a better person.
His use of laughter speaks volumes to the
strength of one man's survival against
events that could have easily provoked
bitterness. Robert knows the physical scars
left by the IED, improvised explosive device,
are visible on his body. What people don't
see, he tells me, are the invisible scars. "The comedy is not only healing for me, but at the same time it's getting awareness out there."
He recounts the events of April 7, 2007 factually, detached from any awareness as his mind cannot yet recall specifics. The details have been given to him through military reports, second hand witnesses and medical assessments. He does recall volunteering to take the lead vehicle to keep a newly injured soldier from harm his first day back. He also remembers having a cup of coffee waiting for the Captain that died later in the Humvee they were driving when hit, but otherwise cannot recall any other sensations, details or memories. He has been told that he suffered full thickness burns over 38% of his body. His head was burned so deeply that his skull was visible. He lost his eyelid, the use of his left hand which was later amputated, and remarkably suffered no burns on his chest.
On the first and second deployments Robert had used his down time to work out, bringing his body into excellent physical shape. He jokes that at one point he had earned the nickname "The Gun Show" and had serial numbers tattooed on his biceps.
"I was told that I was awake and complaining about my eyes," he chuckles recalling the explosion that ripped through his body. "I guess I was frustrated and confused that I couldn't see anything. I asked a lot of questions later about what I did or said- make sure I didn't cry like a girl - that I took it like a man. I had to live up to my nickname - The Gun Show!"
Robert Henline, wounded veteran, when we talk more about
dreams and the future, Robert tells me about his
stand-up comedy. He admits that when one of his therapists
first suggested he use his humor as a way to help his
recovery he had doubts. No one else would get it, he thought,
he could see himself being the funny guy at a party, but
having people laugh at him and the way he looks now...
he just didn't see the benefits. But not having a personality
that shies from a challenge, he tried it and loved it.
"The great thing about it is that it brings awareness.
If they see another burn survivor they'll think- hey, there's a
person in there, they have a sense of humor. They're human, they eat food, they're not zombies... even if they look like one!" Robert believes that there are barriers to understanding, compassion and even inspiration that can be broken through with the telling of his story. He knows that he's just being himself, going out and telling his story, joking around - but if one person takes something from his story and finds the inspiration to overcome their own obstacles, then what happened to him was for a good reason.
He has found that through laughter we can all unite in a common understanding that survival is in all of us. "Doors have been opened for me because of what's happened to me," he admits. "I see it as a blessing. I use the strength of the guys who were in that Humvee with me who didn't make it to be stronger, to make a difference. If one person uses my story to change their life for the better, then it's been worth it."
More of Bobby's story and many other wounded veterans' stories will appear in a traveling gallery to raise funds for a book detailing the stories behind the scars. The stories will also be sent to the Library of Congress for preservation.
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