Laughing matters

“Some day we’re going to laugh at this!” That’s the unofficial Watkins Family motto. We refer to it often!

For instance, my son and daughter decided to create a new Olympic event—the human shot put. The winners: Faith, 11 at the time, our doctor and, his stockbroker. The losers: Paul, 7, with a broken collarbone, our insurance company, and of course us paying the $100 deductible.

Moments before the word processing software went to where all good software goes when an electrical storm knocks out the power.

That was followed on Monday by a visit to the dental hygienist who obviously attended the Marquis de Sade School of Dentistry. Tuesday, we sent our tearful daughter off to her first day of school in this new town. And then Thursday, the bank called to say our checking account was overdrawn.

It’s hard to laugh when you feel like a deflated whoopie cushion. The writer of Ecclesiastes claims there’s a “time to weep and a time to laugh.” But sometimes, it’s awfully hard for us to tell the difference.

For instance, in junior high (a universal time of comedy-tragedy), I tried to ride my unicycle with Kim Williams on my shoulders. We did very well until both of us suddenly wondered, How do we get off!? The answer: With a lot of pain!)

Or the time I visited a young person in the maximum security section of a psychiatric hospital. I wasn’t allowed to leave until the supervisor could confirm I wasn’t a patient. (Can you imagine that?!)

Then there was the comedy-drama in the bathroom of a Florida tour bus. It made a sharp right turn and due to a defective lock, one of Newton’s law of motion, and several of Murphy’s laws—the bathroom door flew open. I wasn’t about to stand up and create an additional sight on the tour, so I stayed seated until the next left turn when the door closed and I could securely lock it.

One trick to keep from being locked up the maximum security section of a psychiatric hospital is to laugh at ourselves. And once we’ve learned to do that, we’ve plenty to laugh about. King Solomon was right: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine.”

Don’t take your situation too seriously

For example, I don’t believe in paying a repair person $50 per hour when I can fix it myself. What do I have to lose? It’s already broken, so I really can’t do too much more damage.

Such was the case with the “simple”—watch out for that word—task of removing the bathroom stool so the tile crew could install new floor covering. And I’d save $50 by doing it myself!

First, I managed to break the main shut off valve to the house.

No problem, I told myself. I’ll just call the water department to come out and shut off the water for an hour or two. But then the thirty-year-old bolts magically transformed into little piles of rust when I tried to remove them from the base of the stool.

No problem. I’ll just drill them out and run quarter-inch bolts straight through the bathroom floor. This would have worked fine if there had been a bathroom floor. A slow leak under the stool had reduced the subflooring to the consistency of wet cardboard.

Faith and Paul seemed to find much about my plumbing predicament to laugh about. “Tim Taylor didn’t mess up his bathroom this badly, Dad!” my eight- and twelve-years roared. I had to laugh, too.

Some situations are serious such as the time Lois and I flew into a remote Native village with an Alaskan bush pilot. During the take-off, he casually remarked, “We’re about fifty pounds over take-off weight, but I thinkwe can clear the trees at the end of the runway.” (We obviously did or someone else’s name would be at the top of this article.)

Greek theater divided plays into two categories: “tragedies” and “comedies.”

Tragic tales had dire endings—such as the bountiful body counts at the end of many of Shakespeare’s play. In comedies, however, the hero and heroine always lived “happily-ever-after” or at least managed to have a pulse at the curtain call.

St. Paul provides the ultimate punch line: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his
purpose.” It’s sort of a “good news-bad news” joke.

For instance, the bad news: the post office lost my airline tickets recently. But the good news: due to a price war, the replacement tickets were $150 cheaper. God is able to take tragedy and turn it into a “comedy”

in the Greek sense of the word. His powerful control of life provides the final punch-line!

So, we can learn to see the lighter side of most situations—or at least be consoled that someday they will make great stories for family reunions or anecdotes for a book. (Nothing terrible happens to writers. Just terrific illustrations!)

So, don’t take your situation too seriously. And . . .

Don’t take your senses too seriously

How we look at things determines our attitudes and actions. Some people simply refuse to see the humor in situations. Their life is filled with a dark seriousness.

Humor lets us see beyond sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell to detect all the interesting surprises, inconsistencies and contradictions to which many people are blind and deaf.

For instance, while in a desperate struggle with an “easy to install”—watch out for that phrase, too—shelving unit, I asked my then five-year-old son for a yardstick. Five minutes—and one splitting headache later—Paul arrived lugging half a tree!

“What are you doing, Paul!? I need a yardstick!”

He looked at me innocently. “But, Dad, it is a stick from the yard.”

After several minutes of laughing and hugging, my headache was gone, and I was able to conquer the shelves with new enthusiasm. (According to William Frye at Stanford University, laughter actually causes our bodies to produce endorphins which are natural stimulants and painkillers which benefit circulation, respiration, the central nervous system, and our immunity system. Norman Cousins, past editor of The Saturday Evening Post, actually laughed himself well from a near-fatal illness by watching “Candid Camera” re-runs.

A large part of humor is looking at things from a slightly different perspective, so be sensitive to the funny things around you. For instance, Lois recently came home from shopping with toilet paper that claims to be “100% recycled.” (What?!)

Don’t take yourself too seriously

For six years I worked as an editor at a very refined and dignified publishing house. (Can you imagine that?!) During that time I saw the emotional and spiritual damage that occurs when people take themselves too seriously. The incredible amount of time and energy to keep up a “dignified” front and the unbearable pressure to perform perfectly squeezes the life—and humor—out of a person.

Fortunately, the editorial department seemed to attract the “crazies.” And with that label came wonderful freedom. If deadline pressure became too great, one editor would dance through the office blowing soap bubbles. Others released their tension with rubber band wars or by calling out for pizza mid-afternoon.

One really stressful afternoon, four of us decorated black plastic garbage bags with posterboard eyes and mouths and paraded through the executive floor as those dancing, singing “California Raisins.” Most accepted it as perfectly normal behavior from the “crazy editors.”

Certainly, humor that is hurtful or at the expense of others has no place. But humor and laughter born out of the joy of living is a healing and uplifting gift.

We have no better example in none other than Jesus Christ. (Yep, Jesus was actually a first-century stand-up comedian!) “Hyperbole” or intentional exaggeration was the hip humor in that time. Jesus would have had them rolling on the hillsides with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. The audience must have howled when he told the Pharisees they would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Or how ’bout camels squeezing through the “eye of a needle?” Or putting a lamp (an open flame then) under a bed (a flat, flammable mat at the time). Jesus told stories that could only happen in cartoons—or, at least, with a great deal of computer technology! (“Thank thee, thank thee. Thou hast been a great audience!”)

The famous Christian journalist G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I am all in favor of laughing. Laughing has something in it in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”

So do something unexpected today. I’m not suggesting anything that involves sharp edges, flammable liquids, high insurance premiums, property damage, or hurt feelings. But someone, who takes him- or herself too seriously, is waiting for your gift of joyful laughter!

Copyright © 1988 James N. Watkins

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