“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.”~ Will Rogers.
My father had a strange sense of humor. His jokes would often be met with a split second of silence, before the audience, whether in church, the classroom, or the huge assembly hall where as chaplain he would lead morning devotions each Friday, would recognize and respond and finally laugh. This was compounded by his straight face as he delivered the line. If you were lucky, especially in a smaller setting, you would see a hint of his one dimple, and realize he was ‘pulling your leg’.
I either learned or inherited a similar style of teasing people. I would say ridiculous things with a straight face, and be amazed or amused to realize that people would take me seriously. When I was still living at home with my parents, my poor mother would listen to the two of us pursuing some preposterous line of reasoning for a good few minutes before realizing that we were doing it again, or as she would accuse us: ‘ganging up’ on her.
I have always found a sense of humor to be an essential asset to survive life’s challenges. I have to confess I would test potential boyfriends to see if they ‘got’ me, is they could they tell that I was being facetious or did they take me seriously. This was way back in my dating years. If the poor guy took me seriously, it was a one date situation. Next! But now that I think of it, why did I view the date as if I was interviewing an applicant for a job? I guess we females were primed to be on a timeline: leave school, go to a tertiary institution (in my case, nursing school), meet the one you were destined to be with for the rest of your life, get married and have a family. But I digress.
In my professional life, I always felt good if I could get my patient to smile, or better yet, to laugh. It is as if once we can make a situation funny, it no longer has power over us. So whether it was a scary prognosis, or the discomfort of surgery, my aim would be to set the patient at ease with some cheerful tale. But of course, there is a right time and a wrong time for a joke. There is nothing worse than someone who makes light of your situation.
It took me a while to find the right balance, between finding everything funny, and recognizing that there are times when we need to wait for the person to be ready. As a student nurse I had back to back evaluations by two different Ward Sisters (Nurse Managers, for those not of the British hospital tradition) saying opposite things. The first told me I needed to be less ‘cheeky’, that I had a good sense of humor but I needed to make sure I was not disrespectful to my ‘superiors’. The next told me that I was too stiff, too formal. She had noticed that I developed a good rapport with my patients, but I tended to be too serious around my coworkers. Somehow I learned to be more aware of the environment and adjust my behavior accordingly.
There are still times when my timing is off. One Monday morning I walked into a classroom of students. They were all dead serious, the room was cold, the mood low. I was used to students being low energy on a Monday morning. Many of our students continue to work full time even while attending school. We are challenged to keep them interested as they sit, exhausted, and try (not very hard) to resist the temptation to fall asleep. So I badgered my students to be more alive, to act lively. I told them that the only excuse they could possibly have for looking this down was if somebody for them had died. Imagine how bad I felt when I discovered that indeed, one of the students had just lost her brother. Really bad timing.
There is science behind laughter being as effective as medicine. It has been shown to improve your immune function, to reduce your cortisol levels, to empower your body to heal. Laughter yoga has been practiced for the past decade (possibly more), an exercise of forced laughter performed in groups, which is as beneficial as spontaneous laughter. The Indian physician (Kataria) who wrote about it, entitled his book ‘Laugh for no reason’. Whether it is the actual laughter, or the deep breathing that accompanies it, the act of laughing is healing and healthy. Sometimes when life is presenting us with challenge after challenge, we forget to laugh.
In the wake of back to back tragedies, tears are closer than laughter. And yet. It turns out that the earthquake in Mexico hit two hours after an annual drill that is held each year in memorial of the deadly quake of 1985. Do you think Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humor? Although at first people thought the alarm was another drill, it also meant that their response was better than it could have been any other day.
As I reflect upon my sense of humor, and the fact that it can get me in trouble, I wonder whether it also serves to protect us from the worst that life throws at us. Does it help us to handle the huge trials that life throws our way? Does it put things in perspective and remind us not to take ourselves so seriously? Often, when I allow something or someone to hurt my feelings, it is because I am guilty of taking things too seriously. Once you learn to laugh at yourself you can let go of grudges and forgive a little easier.
This Friday morning I hope that, even if it appears as if life is deadly serious, you can find some reason to ‘have a good laugh’ for no reason, to release those endorphins that keep the stress hormones in control. Whether your battle is external or internal, a good laugh will fortify you, and scare your enemies away. At the very least, it will confuse them!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! For those who are still facing Mother Nature’s twisted sense of humor, I hope you can find some small relief in the beauty of neighbors helping neighbors, in the equalizing force of natural disasters. There but for the grace of God go you or I.