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Maybe laughter really is the best medicine!


Erik Veland | Flickr CC by NC 2.0

Russell E. Saltzman - published on 05/27/17

If humor isn’t precisely a divine gift, it might be close.

The case of Norman Cousins has always fascinated me. Long editor of the (alas) defunct Saturday Review, Cousins was told he had but a few months to live from an especially virulent variety of arthritis.

He promptly scrapped his gloomy doctor, found another to his liking, and undertook his own recovery. Along with self-administering huge doses of vitamin C, he equally injected heavy doses of humor, the belly laugh sort that produces shortness of breath and abdominal muscle ache. He did this by watching every comedy film he could find, and then laying back waiting for the punch lines, the slapstick scenes, and the comedic surprises.

He claimed 10 minutes of uninhibited out loud laughing would give him two hours of uninterrupted pain-free sleep. Cousins died in 1990 of heart failure, some 26 years after his first doctor told him put his affairs in order.

If humor is life-extending, and even if it isn’t, I’ll take some of it, please. If I’m dying, I’ll watch Mouse Hunt. There is one scene running several minutes with no dialog at all that always leaves me gasping. What’s Up, Doc? is another. Both are screwball classics.

But since life isn’t a movie, I look for glimpses of ordinary humor in life, just the everyday encounters with both friends and with strangers―especially strangers―that take a comical, sometimes hilarious turn. These are true incidents I’ve stumbled into.

* I went to Ace Hardware and found a clerk in the plumbing isle. That never happens, a real clerk at hand, but there she was. Holding up a broken something-or-other that she might see it, I said “It’s a hard life.” “Yeah,” she replied, “and then you go into plumbing and it sucks what’s left right out of you.”

* The church was at the crest of a long, steep hill. Roger was driving the snow-covered street up the hill to worship. His car lost traction, rotated 180-degrees so he was now pointed down the hill back toward home. He had an explanation for skipping worship that Sunday: “I decided if home was the direction God wanted me to go, I was going home.”

* Mrs. Anderson, probably the poorest old woman I ever knew, was in the habit of adding a spoonful of vanilla ice cream to her coffee. This was in 1980 and I had never seen such a thing. Think about that. An 80-something widowed Nebraska farm wife invented vanilla latte. But she only did it for special occasions. Like when? “Why, whenever you have coffee.”

*Visiting a friend in New York I remarked on his dog drinking from the toilet. “Look at it from her perspective. She might wonder why you’re peeing in her water bowl.”

* Sometimes the humor isn’t a punch line, but a lesson. I’m talking with this guy who I take for a Russian. He looks Slavic and talks like it. “Everybody says that but I’m Mexican; now I’m American. And, you want to know what I do for a living?” Sure. “I’m an executive chef; I learned all of it in America.” He had started out in the back of a restaurant and worked himself forward. I tell him I’m impressed, and I am. “This is the real American part: I run an Indian restaurant. A Russian-looking Mexican cooking Indian food for suburbanites, that’s America.” Then he quotes a punch line: “Is this is a great country or what?”

* One from the Bible. Doing some idle reading I found a dry, sardonic bit of editorial snark at 2 Chronicles (21:20) on the reign of King Jehoram, who “died, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not”― in case anyone was wondering about it―“in the tombs of the kings.” (Emphasis added)

If ever there was a way of adding an amendment to the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit, I’d vote to include humor. Of course the gifts of the Spirit are specifically imparted at Baptism while humor, on the other hand, seems to be generic to our species. If humor isn’t precisely a divine gift, then I’d suggest it is close.

Does God have a sense of humor, cracking cosmic jokes on the pleasures and the absurdities of life? I doubt it. Not as we humans practice the funny stuff. Still, at the very least, there are hints God can be playful. Remember that Leviathan thing, Psalm 104:26, that great beast God “formed to play with.”

Maybe God doesn’t laugh out loud (or at us), but He seems to know delight well enough.

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