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The Sword of Laughter

August 31st, 2016
The Ornithologist by Michael Divine

“The Ornithologist” by Michael Divine

“What matters is to move surely and calmly, with the appropriate humor and appropriate melancholy in the temporal and spatial landscape that we are.”
– Michael Krogerus “The Decision Book

One of the things I can thank my mother for (and there’s many things) is instilling in me a healthily strong sense of humor. Dinner time for the family of five in my house would often see my dad recounting something he’d heard on Paul Harvey, a radio talk show host, while driving home from work. I’d remark on something I thought funny – some increasingly sarcastic off-hand comment. My mom would respond with a leveling up of the funny. Then I’d respond. And so on and we’d bat it back and forth like some kind of ping pong resulting in humorous guffaws and, much to my dad’s chagrin, whatever he had to say was lost to the peals of our laughter but at least the dinner table was happy and smiling and, ultimately, maybe that’s all that mattered.

It feels sometimes like it is easier to descend into melancholy, resigning ourselves to the uphill struggle, than to rise to humor – to finding the lightness. In some ways, it seems to be more natural a state than humor, even. We are born into this world then slowly sink back towards death. It is, after all, easier to sink than to swim.

Life pushes and pulls at us, sometimes forcing us down upon our knees nearly defeating us. For many, life is one person stepping upon another ad infinitum saying to each other ‘because I was stepped on, I will step upon you’ and so on. There’s no humor there, no joy, certainly no laughter other than the malicious laughter of Ha Ha Ha Now I’m King of the Pile.

How do we even keep going? When the anger runs thin, when the furnaces falter, when the candle flickers?

I default, ultimately, to humor. Perhaps it is what I learned would keep me going. In my alone times, in my quiet times, I often found myself laughing at the story and looking for the punchline, any punchline, that would uplift.

Humor uplifts. Yet, humor takes practice. Learning to smile at our mistakes and the backhands of the world. To dance with that crap storm that is life sometimes. It takes effort to instill a lightness in our step. Our muscles weaken from our burdens. And our burdens, as we pass through life, can just seem to get heavier, if we let them.

Laughter helps lighten the load. It’s ok to shrug off those crushing weights. It helps shift the weight. It is not to discredit the crushing weight of the world. It isn’t a distraction from the deadly darknesses.

Think of laughter as a sword that renders the evils of the world limp, void, because laughter is the antithesis to the darkness. For every pain, there is a pleasure. For every wail there is a chuckle. It is a terrible and terrifying aspect of life. Every downtrodden human looks for a chance for laughter.

The absolute cosmic joke that I cannot put into words makes me shake my head at the whole vast parade of ups and downs, lefts and rights, of rights and wrongs.

When I falter and fall – when I am there on my knees sometimes in my darkest moments… even then… even then there is a shard of a light: a glint or glimmer – there is the muscle memory of humor that is laughing at the situation. At me. With me. I exercise that laughter muscle because sometimes that’s all I have, a tiny shiv of humor to poke at the demon that has been unleashed. A smirk to send it on its way.

And while there may be laughter, there is still the awareness of the grimness of the situation. The weight. The gravity. The audacity of humans.The absurdity of life, shifting and pulling and pushing at me.

Life – a good life – like a good garden, requires careful cultivation. While there are bits of our past best discarded, there are often other aspects that we’ve held onto that are worth keeping and treasuring. They give us strength and help us to persevere. Sometime we can add new tools to that collection, sometimes the old tools need refinement. For example, I did have to make a serious effort to shift my ‘humor’ away from ‘cutting and debilitating sarcasm.’ After much trial and error, I found that the razor sharp edge of cutting and debilitating sarcasm was often deadly when it came to friendships and real connection with others. I went back to my proverbial forge and did my best to reshape that sword into something more loving.

We talk of being a warrior in the world but a warrior’s life need not be all battles and confrontations. In fact, the true warrior does their best to avoid real battles, real fights, as much as possible. We need not stalk and stew, waiting for the next bogeyman or woman to leap out at us. We can wield the sword with love and joy as much as anger and hatred and, with it, dispense compassion and laughter as much as we can sow destruction. Laughter slices through illusions, games, concepts sowing a sweet garden and inviting in joy.

Justice comes in many forms. I think that on a personal level, the world where we walk onwards, head held high, light, weightless, soft, resilient, persevering through the storm when some injustice has been meted out upon us, laughing all the way is the greatest form of justice – because I swear to you, life is brief – it will vanish before you know it – and your laughter – your true heartfelt laughter – will inspire more than you might ever know. It says, it screams, it laughs: I AM. Laughter is rebellion against the tyranny of the mind.

Melancholy, too, has its place. It is the soft meditative reflection and an important piece of our human experience but we need not dwell there permanently. By the same token, we cannot dwell solely in our own little humorous cave. In both cases, dwelling solely in one or the other, we might miss some of the more precious moments of this life. So I think it’s important to hold both in our hands and walk through the world weaving them together. We cry, we laugh, we sink, we swim, we soar. No moment is the end all be all of moments. We look for the sadness in the humorous moment and the humor in the sad moment. Because there will be one after another after another after another until the day that we die.

For me, those shining peaks, those peals of laughter around the dinner table of my life – of my mind – all my various selves making light of the situations: it makes the depths all the more rewarding and helps me navigate my life in a direction that feels all the more whole.

The reward for that practice is this: a life that feels worth living and a life that inspires joy in others. And, to me, that treasure is priceless.

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