Tragedy or comedy. Given a choice who wouldn’t pick the latter? But, we don’t always get to choose and when we get that big dose of suck, it can sometimes be impossible to even manage a smile. Yet, so many who have little reason to be amused, show us light every day. “Life would be tragic if it wasn’t so funny” said Stephen Hawking, a genius trapped in a wheel chair forever. Now, if he can find humor in what we would readily describe as a really dismal poker hand, we have every reason to create our own smiley face.
“ From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” Dr. Suess.
People with the best senses of humor are life’s pied pipers. They are the ones who help us recognize and cope with life’s absurdities. Humor can be just what the doctor ordered, especially when the diagnosis is something we want to mark return to sender. A good laugh recharges your batteries. A sense of humor can improve your immune system, lower stress hormones, relax muscles and lower blood pressure. (Note to self: Remember that a good joke helps the brain on days when I walk upstairs three times before I remembering what I went there for.) Who knew humor did such a heavy lift?
“The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” Mark Twain
There are many things that are funny; but these days, even when grief doesn’t make a personal call, there are many very unfunny things that fill our world, too. In fact, a whole lot is downright scary. These are times we need a little humor, or a lot, but when we are smack in the middle of the scary, a smile is mile away. Even when the problems of the world take a day off, the negative noise from the Beltway, can snuff out the fragile sprouts of humor.
None of us voted for Captain Kangaroo but I suspect Captain Von Trapp wasn’t on our political wish list either. For the first time in my remembrance, the only comedy bits from the political spotlight these days are mirthless barbs. Like the cringe worthy bite backs of a once-upon-a-time ‘other’ of mine, who made sarcastic and nasty a blood sport, I recognize those poison darts when I hear them. No matter how thinly disguised as humor, I didn’t buy them then and I don’t now. Real humor has a different face.
“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.” Henry Ward Beecher
Humor is a gift and not everyone has been blessed with it. Sometimes serious lack of the humor gene springs from how someone either views the world or has been hurt by it. Even so, everyone can smile. We were built to do that. And humor, when it’s authentic, causes laughter and smiles not squirming. It isn’t mean-spirited. Snarky yuk yuk isn’t funny – it’s hurtful. We need the real stuff now more than ever, so people, use your words – well. Levity doesn’t need to be comedy gold but it shouldn’t be thrown around like stink bombs either. Genuine wit, warm laughter can be a flashlight in often dark times; times that need words to build bridges not blow them up.
“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.” Will Rogers
Life happens on the world stage as well as the one in our work a day world. Well placed smiles hit hearts more effectively than water cooler arrows costumed as humor. At one time or another, we all can relate. We may even (gulp) hold a memory of our own donation to those memories. When used well, humor is a beautiful thing. But when grown ups echo those playground bullies, soccer moms echo the mean girls they once were victims of, or fearful people dress up insults as clever jokes, humor hurts. Punch lines should never have that kind of punch.
Me? I like the other kind of humor, the kind that made me hit the floor and act out bacon to make my daughter smile after a tough day as a social worker. I poke fun at myself, more than anyone else could and though I might seriously bomb in my attempts to be funny sometimes, humor seems better than the alternative. I infuse my blog posts, as time became softer in the months following my sweet husband’s sudden death, with my signature, kooky humor because it’s simply who I am and it’s my best defense against total meltdown. Every single one of us faces some kind of adversity, sadness – some more than others. No matter how successful, rich or seemingly put together you are, life will still sneak up on you and steal your peace — and your laugh. And if you don’t find a way to grab it back again, you may find it harder and harder to remember and celebrate the happy.
Life is funny — and also deadly serious. When it’s the latter, when it makes you cry more tears than you ever thought possible, you still can take back your sense of humor. Crisis, grief, fear may borrow it, but they don’t and never will own it. You might have to fight for it, but with practice you’ll get it back almost as good as new. As they say, shit happens – and it happens every day. To make light of tragedy, grief or crises faced by victims of hurricanes, forest fires, or deadly terror is unconscionable. But if we let sadness take up residence, we become paralyzed by the suck. We might just lose our little minds and forfeit our ability to lift up someone else.
“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Victor Borge
Humor can be the glue in our relationships. There were a lot of very unfunny things about what my husband went through in those cancer years yet sometimes, even then, we often found a way to laugh, even it had a edge of noir. To live every single day in the heavy would have broken us. We were hardly stand up comics, though both of us had enough humor to hold up the other. (Seriously, how many guys stand at the bedroom doorway, then take a running leap onto the bed – just because?) To be able to find humor even after a fight may be an art form but it’s one that can make all the difference in couple sanity.
Beyond chocolate, laughing helps you roll with the punches – without the calories. Having grandchildren helps a whole lot, too. They crack me up all the time. Who wouldn’t, even a down day, grin widely hearing an impossibly cute grandboy boast with his 4 year old lisp, that he’s just a ‘whack a doodle’? Sharing inside jokes with friends and family is a well I’ve dipped into all my life and never more than these last two years. Conversely, making them laugh, in their own less than happy times, is a gift that keeps giving for all of us.
“Pain is inevitable; misery is optional” Hyram Smith
You never know when you need it, so practice humor often and keep those laughs in good working order. Every day, try to find humor in something. Silly headlines. Really clever commercials (An old ad agency kid, I may be more critical than most of that genre, so when one cracks me up, like the new Duloth trading spots, I give it an A+) And TV’s Will and Grace never fails to make me laugh.
They say laughter is the language of the soul, so speak it well. Sometimes clown noses may not be required; sometimes they will. Sometimes just a smile will lift you or someone you love from a quicksand of sad. Sometimes we might really need laughter of the old milk coming out of your nose variety. Sometimes a simple belly laugh will do. If we can see things from a softer lens, transform grief tears to laughing memories, maybe laughter really can calm the soul, and release the worry or regret. Laugh at yourself. (That literally can be a daily event for me) Crack yourself up. Try to see the irony in life and let a little humor guide you over the speed bumps.
Or just remember, that he who laughs . . . lasts.