I believe that humor and laughter are an indispensable balm to the inevitable pain involved in being human.
I am an actor. One of the gurus of my profession, Michael Shurtleff, offers this advice: always try to find the humor in a scene. He is careful about how he defines “humor:”
“Humor. . . is that attitude towards being alive without which you would long ago have jumped off the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge.
“Humor. . . is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day . . . .
“ . . . . [B]ecause [life] is deadly serious and human beings cannot bear all that heavy weight, they alleviate the burden by humor.”
When I first heard “This I Believe” on the radio, I was keen to send in some essay — as a Catholic actor, I have produced a number of plays in which I aired my beliefs with great passion and pleasure. But in recent years, I have found it difficult to say just what I believe in. A painful separation from my wife, complicated by contentious custody and visitation issues over our young son, has induced in me an acute crisis of faith, not only in my religion, but in myself, in human beings, and in life in general. Anything I have built my faith on, including my own character, has, ultimately, come to seem like a shifting sand bank.
The one thing that has kept me sane and hopeful has been humor. Nothing seems to cut unhappiness down to size like a well-timed joke, jape or comic story. I am, believe it or not, a very funny guy, and I only hang out with funny people. No suffering in my life has been so great but that a funny friend couldn’t puncture it like an over-inflated balloon with a well-chosen word or a silly voice. And this is a two-way street: if I can reduce a room of folks to helplessness with prolonged belly laughing, not only am I relieving whatever suffering they might be experiencing, but my own as well.
Laughter has never offered a permanent solution to my discontents, but it has always served as an invaluable temporary pain-killer — morphine won’t cure your wounds or burns, but it can keep you sane while you convalesce, and give you courage to continue in your therapy.
I have always appreciated humor, too, as a gift from loving friends: it is a sort of currency of friendship — it costs nothing, but is worth more than what money can buy. Except a blimp — how cool would it be to have a blimp?
Shakespeare spoke of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” and the Buddha said that “Life is Suffering.” If suffering is built into my life, and if all other comforts and credos fail me, then I’m glad I can believe, in the last resort, in humor as a source of invaluable perspective and consolation.
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