I know a woman who can’t suppress the uncontrollable urge to snicker during funerals, and several times has had to get up and leave while trying to disguise her convulsive giggles as extreme grief. She explained that people understand heavy emotions for a dearly departed loved one, but no one buys it when the deceased is the reclusive distant relative of an elderly neighbor she agreed to drive to the memorial service. What they must’ve thought about that poor woman fleeing the church during the funeral only to be spotted afterward standing under an oak tree grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“They must’ve thought I was clinically insane!” she declared.
I’ve had my suspicions, but not just because of her uncontrolled laughter, which I once witnessed firsthand. Something in the eulogy landed strangely with her, and before I realized what had happened, she was rocking back and forth with her eyes squeezed shut and her body jerking as though something was coming back up.
Who hasn’t had to fight laughter at the most inappropriate moment?
These days I cherish any opportunity to laugh. Even before the pandemic, a good deal of our waking hours during the past few years has been distracted by the shenanigans of those who dominate the lamentable 24-hour news cycle. Very little has seemed funny except for satire.
Historically, some of the best comedians have drawn from the darkness, transforming it into something acceptable in a way to cope with tragedy. Even if they haven’t succeeded into making the darkest moments acceptable, they’ve helped us laugh at the ridiculous aspects of planetary evil.
Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) allowed audiences the opportunity to see the foolishness of Fascism at the very moment the infamous failed art student goose-stepped across Europe. Thank goodness we have late night shows across many networks as well as countless funny people appearing in various formats to point out the ridiculous as we struggle to find answers to why any number of crises have gotten out of hand.
I have never been nostalgic for any sort of good old days because I have never heard of any. My parents lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Korean Conflict, McCarthyism, the JFK assassination, and the Viet Nam War as I came along and experienced the 1968 assassinations, the energy crisis, an inflated economy, the Iran Hostage Crisis, recessions, the HIV-AIDS crisis, The Challenger tragedy, riots, terrorism, and now the latest pandemic. It’s hard to believe than anyone could find anything to laugh about during those times, but there have been wonderful distractions to keep us from losing hope between the truly breathtaking moments such as Woodstock, the moon landing, the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act, Marriage Equality, and other moments of resolution that happened after thinking for so long that life would never be good again.
There are so many uncertainties. We have so few answers, and we don’t know if the stores are ever going to have paper products again. We’ve been called upon to adjust in ways we have never had to do. The ennui was unmistakable in the days before self-isolation and shelter in place. I witnessed the feelings of panic and depression as colliding shopping carts overflowed with supplies, a lot of which plays no part in slowing the spread of the virus.
Humor seems to have left the building—literally, as television production takes a hiatus. We’re isolated, so no joyous get-togethers to celebrate milestones or gatherings to take our minds off of the heaviness. But we need laughter to prevent our complete descent into desperation. It’s up to us to find the jokes whether or not we share them with friends. Something that was insignificant until recently was toilet tissue. Now we can’t stop talking about it since its current value is equal to diamonds (well, probably sapphires not diamonds). There are a lot of jokes there, and we should make them.
My parents grew up in the 1930s and 40s, and I heard so many sad stories about starvation and the fear of foreign attack. The available news footage from the era shows a black-and-white world of poverty and loss. There are no smiling faces until after the Normandy Invasion. War and economic depression were sad times, and I assumed no one laughed for decades, but I’ve seen enough comedic films from the era to know that people were laughing. More importantly, my parents and their siblings were very often funny, and that didn’t simply start with the post-war era.
No, we can’t laugh on days like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, as doing so would be like laughing during a funeral, but when the smoke clears and we find ways to adjust to the unprecedented, let’s find something that makes us laugh until we’re once again aching and breathless. The very worst of people and events are weakened by laughter.
© 2020 by Patrick Brown
To learn more about my books, including the three featuring Maggie Lyon and two that are filled with riotously funny moments, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1