Yesterday, my father told me a joke.
Two soldiers were running from the enemy. One says to the other, “What’s going to happen?”
The other soldier said, “There are two possibilities. Either we outrun them, or they catch us.”
“What happens if they catch us?”
“There are two possibilities. Either we escape, or they put us in prison.”
“What if they put us in prison?”
“There are two possibilities. Either they eventually release us, or we die.”
“What if we die??”
“Well, there are two possibilities….”
He told me this joke as we were waiting for some medical tests to come back. There have been a lot of “What will happen?” and “What if?”s going on my family this week, and my dad (like his dad before him) likes to use humor to lighten dark moods. And his jokes are actually usually pretty good. Longish, and sometimes you wonder “Holy cow, dad, WHERE IS THIS GOING?” but the punch line is usually worth it.
My parents live approximately 3 hours from my home, and as I was driving home, I pondered this joke. For some reason, the joke was oddly comforting as we tossed out speculations about what would happen if my father’s tests came back with bad news. I suppose true humor is suppose to do that—alleviate stress, bring comfort at odd times, release tension.
I wonder if we use it enough.
We’ve talked here at Segullah before about grief, and how for all of our Mormon doctrine about hope and life eternal and the glories of salvation, Mormons aren’t always that good with grief. We rush to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, but lots of times we do it badly. We want to give hope, but somehow want to do it by pretending that hope and sorrow can’t co-exist (they can). We accentuate the hope (which is good) and ignore the sorrow (which is bad).
I know I have been on both sides of this equation. I know that at times I have done a poor job of easing somebody’s emotional burden, but I only learned that after I went through some trials myself and received some well meant but badly executed comfort. As I thought about comfort and mourning and burdens, I wondered:
Can humor be used to mourn with those that mourn?
I read Christopher Reeve’s autobiography, “Still Me”, which was his memoir of his life-changing accident and subsequent adjustment to life as a quadriplegic. I don’t remember a lot of details from the book, but I remember his description of this anxiety and fear he had about his injuries, and a feeling of hopelessness.
Then some obnoxious doctor came in, speaking in a strange, Russian accent, covered head to toe with medical gear, talking about how he was Reeve’s proctologist and could he PLEASE move that annoying neck tie (referring to Reeve’s breathing tube) and bustling about like a crazy man. Reeve was horrified and mystified at the same time, when lo and behold, he recognized this crazy doctor as his good friend Robin Williams, who was doing what Robin Williams did best—making people laugh. Reeve described how important and precious that time was with Williams, how the humor was something he had desperately lacked, and desperately needed. He referred to Williams in his book several times as a bright light in a dark time.
Humor. I think it’s important. I’m not sure how you can best use it, or when you should use it, but I still think it’s important. Somehow it fits into the comfort paradigm. Or at least, I think it does. What do you think?
We still don’t know what the future will bring in terms of my father’s health, but I imagine as we go, we’ll need lots of prayers and lots of comfort.
And some jokes. Good ones. C’mon, people, let’s have ’em.