Hurts; I Had To Laugh
One of the seeming paradoxes of my existence is that
I am equally at home with soaring idealism and sardonic
humor. Certainly I've left more than one person wondering
how it is that sarcasm and sensitivity can inhabit the
But really it is no wonder. The cynic and the idealist
are simply flip sides of the same coin. Our wryest observations
about life are born precisely from the pain of bruised
hopes and dreams.
In Robert Heinlein's classic science fiction novel
*Stranger in a Strange Land*, Michael is a human man
who was born and raised on Mars by Martians and has
lately come down to Earth. His mentor and lover, Jill,
has been guiding his transition into the human community.
One of the greatest puzzles to Michael's mind has been
humor: Try as he might, he simply cannot "grok" it,
comprehend it, take it into himself at the deepest level
Then, one day, Michael and Jill are visiting a zoo.
Michael is in a pensive, sober mood, standing by silently
while Jill tosses peanuts to monkeys in a cage. One
monkey to whom she tosses a peanut loses it to a larger
monkey, who caps the theft with a beating before making
off with the gain. The wronged monkey broods, pounds
the floor, vocalizes angry protests, then suddenly darts
across the cage and picks on an even smaller monkey,
to whom he gives a more vigorous thrashing. The small
monkey creeps away to take refuge in the arms of a female
with a baby on her back. All the while, the other monkeys
have ignored the whole thing.
Michael, much to Jill's consternation, suddenly bursts
into raucous, uncontrollable laughter.
After hastening him back to their flat, she and Michael
get into a long argument about what makes people laugh.
"I had thought--I had been told--that a 'funny' thing
is a thing of goodness. It isn't," insists Michael,
and he goes on to explain, "The goodness is in the laughing
itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing .
. . against pain and sorrow and defeat."
To which Jill protests, "But-- Mike, it is not a goodness
to laugh *at* people."
"No," agrees Michael. "But I was not laughing at the
little monkey. I was laughing at *us*. People. And I
suddenly knew that I was people and could not stop laughing."
Humor illuminates the cracks in our lives. We laugh
out of recognition and relief; we have identified a
source of our pain. Someone else sees it, too, and has
brought it to the surface to be seen, named, acknowledged.
We are not alone.
Whether this realization has the power to transform
the circumstances that cause our pain is, in some measure,
up to the ones experiencing the moment of epiphany via
laughter; in even greater measure it depends upon whether
the ones who have the power to effect the change have
experienced the moment of epiphany. The humorist, at
her best, is a catalyst for insight. For herself, and
for all whom she has reached, remains the task of acting
upon those insights gained, to begin the work of patching
the cracks illuminated by a moment of laughter.
e x t e s s a y -
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