Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." Mark Twain.

I'm generally of a mind to think that Mark Twain was correct about most things. But perhaps no more so than when he said this. Despite the fact that my life has not been all hearts and flowers, I've usually been able to find something to laugh about, even if it is only my own foibles. And I believe that those who cannot or will not laugh are taking themselves far too seriously.

One of my earliest realizations of my tendency to laugh in the face of problems came when I was a 17 year old college freshman. For the first time in my life, I was on my own and very concerned about my ability to succeed. So I sought out one of the university's counselors to hash out my worries. At one point during our conversation, he leaned back in his chair, smiled broadly and said, "You will never go crazy." Odd little pronouncement, I thought, so I asked him why not. He said it was because of my sense of humor. At which I told him that that was a rotten thing to say as I thought it might be much easier to have doctors supply me with lots of lovely drugs and order my life for me!

A few years later, in the early 1980s, I was living in Texas. Folks were up in arms about a group of local KKK members getting a parade permit for a march through town. There was a lot of discussion about how or if to respond and the ideas ran from the benign to the bizarre. One friend of mine had what I thought was a brilliant idea. He said that everyone should line the parade route in silence and, as the ridiculous people in their bedsheets progressed along the route, everyone should begin giggling. Given that the KKK is not known for their sense of humor, perhaps it would have ended badly. But it would have been a lovely thing to see attempted.

Amazingly, even death can have its sting lessened a bit by laughter. My maternal grandfather's family did not engage in hushed reverent funerals. There was always loud conversation and story telling going on. And, if one didn't know better, or notice the casket, one might have thought a party was in full swing. When my grandfather died, the once large extended family had disbursed, but the tradition still held among those remaining. One of my grandfather's nephews, whom I had never met, came in and began telling us a story about my grandfather. It seems that my grandfather had taken him on fishing trips as a boy. And he'd let my grandfather know that he was fond of Milky Way candy bars. My grandfather knew no moderation in supplying things that people liked. And he gave his nephew so many candy bars when they went fishing that the kid invariably got sick. And didn't much want the candy any more. Laughter ensued because we each had our Milky Way equivalent. Mine was strawberry ice cream......still can't touch the stuff, although I do look at it longingly sometimes in the grocery store. And we won't get into what happened to get me laughing uproariously in the ladies room at the funeral home. I still don't know which one of my relatives heard me and beat a quick exit. The laughter didn't eliminate the pain I was feeling, but it brought those of us remaining closer together and it is the laughter I remember now, more than the pain.

I find that I don't much trust people who don't laugh. Granted at a given moment someone may be in too much pain to laugh, but there are some that never, ever laugh and it makes me suspicious. People who can laugh together generally do not hurt each other. And those who can laugh at themselves are usually gentler with those around them. Victor Borge once said that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. And what a lovely way to close the gap.

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