Is it okay to laugh now?
Note: I wrote this piece on May 28, 2020. On May 29th & 30th, civil protests took place throughout America. Many of which turned violent. I’m writing this note on May 31, 2020, saddened, as America, the country I’ve pledged my allegiance to, is a broken land. As a concerned citizen I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to laugh right now. You may think the same. And I agree. But as living human being, trying to cope–like every other human being, both alive and now dead–with the heartbreak of being alive, I need to.
Chase and I are sitting at the kitchen table. I’m attempting to teach him about beach erosion while he’s attempting to balance on the hind legs of the kitchen chair.
“… it’s like when wind or water wear away the sand.”
“Chase. What did I just say?”
“You heard me. What did I just say?”
“About beach erosion.”
“Erosion is like… something that happens on the beach.”
“No. Are you even listening? Sit right.”
The chair returns to earth and thuds.
“What’s your favorite color?”
In his TEDtalk, On Laughter,Anthony McCarten, tells the following:
An old man is dying in his bed.
His heart slows…ta–dum, ta–dum, ta–dum.
The old man fights to keep his eyes open. And yet oddly his nose works like new. He smells brown sugar and chocolate warming in the kitchen. With the last of his energy, he pulls his frail body out of bed, shuffles down the hall to the kitchen where he finds his wife, of 50 years, baking the man’s absolute favorite– chocolate chip cookies.
A dozen hot-out-of-the-oven cookies cool on the counter.
The old man smiles. He feels warm. Complete. Almost ready to die.
He shuffles to the counter and as he peels a warm chocolate chip cookie from the baking sheet, his wife spins and slaps his hand, “What do you think you’re doing? Those are for the funeral.”
Maybe it’s because I’m 40 now or maybe because homeschooling has finally gotten to me or maybe because I spend most of my waking hours thinking about the hole in my brain– but lately, I’ve found the only way to ease the tension is too laugh.
Age, a plague, a terminal diagnosis, homeschooling– the world is burning and I’m at the mercy of its flames.
And you can either exhaust yourself, throwing buckets and buckets of futile water on the fire or accept fate, make the best of it, and laugh. The truth is–each of us is responsible for choosing our quality of life. For choosing how we deal with the inevitable heartache of being alive.
And laughing, I believe, is a better alternative than a lot of the other alternatives.
Chase watches a video about beach erosion. A wave rises. An entire ocean behind it, pushing it toward the beach. The wave curls, hangs, and crashes. Unstoppable. Unchangeable. Immortal.
The video ends and Chase rocks back on the hind legs of the chair.
Gravity and fatherly sternness pull the front legs forward.
“Now tell me–what is erosion?”
“Dad– do you think we’ll go to the beach this summer?”
I stare at him. I assume the gerbil that runs on the wheel in his head has escaped it’s Sisyphusian fate and is off somewhere making TikTok videos.
Let’s face it–seriousness has not been a great response to life. Seriousness has gotten us and still gets us into trouble. Constant seriousness sprouts anxiety and fear and general unhappiness. Yet, in the interest of survival, we train ourselves to be serious. Because we believe if we’re not serious than we can not be taken seriously.
A 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
I don’t want to make light of our situation. Or advocate recklessness. Because things are serious. You know this. I know this. Together we feel the tugs of this. And we have to act accordingly.
But is it okay to laugh?
If anything– this pandemic gives us an opportunity to recalibrate. To ask ourselves the all important question: what is important?
With our daily routines disrupted, with the things we once deemed important on hold– we have to give big importance to the little things. Things that we’ve often overlooked in the clutter of the day.
And you mustn’t feel guilty about seeking relief.
While humor may not stop the world from turning or beaches from eroding or the plague from spreading–it helps us cope with our frailty. With our own erosion.
We are all small and perishable like the square of watermelon Chase just popped into his mouth.
“What is erosion?”
My son works his little jaw. Slowly. A state of exaggerated chewing. I know it well. He’s holding the clock’s hands. Plunging the sands of the eternal hourglass with his thumb. As if to buy the virus time, so it could make a nest in my lungs and boil my insides–just so he can avoid answering the question.
The world spins.
A wave crashes.
Somewhere, someone– coughs.
And all I can do is laugh.
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