Essential Humor

The old fellow apologized as he handed me the check he had just signed.  I had noticed as he wrote that his hand wasn’t as steady as most, but what was on the page was a little surprising.  The spidery signature was perfectly formed, the letters completely legible.  It was in fact almost a beautiful signature, a testament to penmanship lessons well learned.  Upon closer examination, though, I could see the jagged edges of little waves along the surfaces of every single letter.  Instead of the signature sweeping smoothly up and around and over and back, the letters bore the evidence a tiny, consistent shake throughout.  Every single aspect of these letters was influenced by the most regular and, until examined closely, almost imperceptible shakiness from the first upstroke to the final flourish.

The old gentleman looked at me, now wearing a wry grin and said, with a twinkle in his eye, “The doctor says I have an ‘essential tremor’…”  Then, leaning across the counter almost conspiratorially, he continued in a stage whisper, “…but I think I could do without it.”  I couldn’t help the smile that flashed across my face as he said it, any more than I can help the one that forms even as I write this.  What a great gift…the gift of humor in the face of affliction.  This octogenarian wasn’t fazed emotionally by the ravages of the years on his body, but welcomed the challenge, never losing his sense of humor and self-deprecating wit.

You know that I am a lifelong teller of jokes and puns, having brought groans to the lips of scores of friends, acquaintances, and innocent passers-by with my repertoire (mostly gleaned from others).  I have recently become aware of something else, though.  I don’t tell jokes when I’m unhappy, or when I’m under stress.  If some unfortunate event (or even a series of them) has stolen my joy, I loath humor; preferring instead to wallow in the feelings of self-pity, or anger, or even bitterness.  As a child, I can even remember becoming angry with my mother if she would attempt to cheer me up with levity while I was sulking.   Maybe someday, I’ll expound on the value of a good sulk.  Today, I’m thinking about the astounding ability of humor to raise spirits, to deflect anguish and discouragement…and my stubborn resistance to its effects.

I’m looking forward to the day when I am able, as my distinguished friend, to lighten a potentially awkward moment with humor which both calls attention to, and lessens the importance of an infirmity.  An infirmity, by the by, which could not have been hidden anyway.  I have a tendency to try to hide my weaknesses, my defects, for fear that someone will comment on them; might even tease about them.  A case in point:  Several years ago, I realized that, much like this old gentleman, I had a spot of shakiness myself.  One Sunday as I led worship at church, I discovered that I had a tremor in my right hand if I held the microphone in that hand as I sang.  Not in my left hand, just my right.  I was embarrassed by it and have never talked about it before today with anyone but the Lovely Lady.  It may have been a temporary issue, caused by too much caffeine (a distinct possibility) or a medication (less likely).  Nonetheless, I am always careful to hold a microphone in my left hand, so I have never chanced revealing the problem to anyone since that day.  I think I’m ready to face the issue now.  Besides that, I am realizing the potential for little jokes should the problem continue.  Think of the killer vibrato which could result! I realize that I’m on shaky ground here, but we might even work a version of Elvis’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” into the repertoire.

Shared by a friend on facebook.  Simple but effective.

They call it “gallows humor”.  Laughter in the face of a hopeless situation.  The man is led to the the electric chair and asks the warden as he enters, “Are you quite sure this thing is safe?”  Some would describe it as denial, the inability to believe that something bad is unavoidable.  Other would call it bravado, a false pride or even arrogance…not giving adversaries the satisfaction of victory.  It can be those things and if so, it is not really humorous and possibly even hurtful to those listening.  Thankfully, it can also be the desire to lessen the hurt, the mental anguish, of others looking on.  This is what I see when I remember my friend, along with others I know who do the same thing.  The hardship is not nearly as important to them as the desire to ease the pain of others, so they lighten the mood, effectively saying, “It is real, but nothing to be anxious about.”  I want to be able to do that.  In the midst of suffering, of mental pain, I want to think about those around me who love me.  I just haven’t gotten to that point yet.

I’m going to keep trying.  I’ll keep kicking myself when I realize how selfish I’ve been.  Hopefully, surrounding myself with people like my elderly friend above will yield the desired result in time.  Someday, you may even hear quips from me about my aches and pains (e.g., “My back goes out more often now than the Lovely Lady and I do”) and perhaps a bald joke or two.  I’m certainly not ready for the latter yet, though.

I may not have all my marbles, but I’ve still got most of my hair…so far.

“Don’t worry.  Be happy.”
(Bobby McFerrin~American singer/songwriter)

“No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”
(Mercutio, asked if a knife wound was painful~from “Romeo & Juliet”~William Shakespeare)

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