Thinking about life, love, creativity, and art are some of the things that make me feel very happy. This morning, as I was shelving holds at my library job, I was thinking about laughter and humor. I love to laugh, and I think we can all agree that laughter makes us feel as light as helium balloons. All worries disappear, and the body, mind, and soul become united in a moment of hilarity.
As I was drinking my morning tea, I was browsing through James Hollis’ book (mentioned in previous posts) “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life”. I came across a passage in which he says that (paraphrase) animals live the mystery of life, but we are observers of the mystery. Our loss of innocence is defined by a percentage of consciousness which takes us away from the direct experience of being at one with the Universe at every given moment. We are really experiencing life as animals do, but our minds take us away from that experience. In a sense, life passes us by while we pay attention to other virtual worlds, ideas, worries, preoccupations.
When a small child peals with musical laughter, like an explosion of bells, isn’t that child living with animal-like innocence and unity? I think so! Just to hear the sound of laughter is to feel weight dropping off of one’s being. I remember the sound of my son’s laughter when he was younger. It was an amazing laugh. The range of pitch, the crescendo of sounds from squeals to bubbling eruption of delight. Sometimes he still laughs with equal enthusiasm, but the sounds have changed as he has gotten older.
I remember when I lived in France, I had a friend who was constantly slipping up with language and meaning. Random and absurd comments would pop out of her – beyond her own conscious control, and we would collapse, laughing at the amazing creations of her mind until our rib cages and jaws would ache. I miss her; I miss the wonderful silliness of those moments. Occasionally, at work, at home with my son, or at my book club meetings, the opportunity to laugh uncontrollably will arise, and I am always overjoyed to partake. It really is better than any drug, with no deleterious side effects. The expression “light-hearted” really takes on meaning in the case of laughter. The chest literally feels as if a weight has been removed; it is easier to breathe. Skin feels luminous, and the body floats. During my years in Paris, I noticed that adults rarely laugh in public. Perhaps laughter there is an intimate expression of self, akin to physical intimacy and orgasm. I can see that…laughter makes us naked and innocent, when it is sincere and explosive.
Humor can take on many forms and speak many languages. While we all share laughter, from infancy to death, regardless of cultural mores, humor is another story. Humor can be playful or cruel, and it often is strongly tied to circumstance and cultural knowledge. I found that understanding French humor was the most difficult aspect of learning the language and of living in the country. It took time and discernment to understand what made French people laugh. When I would go to the movies (Paris is the best place to go to the movies!), I remember in particular that the French public would laugh in all of the “wrong” places while watching Woody Allen films. They love Woody Allen, and I can’t really understand what the movie-goers found so amusing. When I would laugh, I laughed alone – the parts that were funny to me were irrelevent to them! I remember reading a book (The Act of Creation, first published in 1964) for one of my art history classes in college which explores the origins of humor, by Arthur Koestler. What I retained is that humor is by nature cruel – that we laugh at the expense of someone else. While I think that this can sometimes be true – when we laugh at someone’s misfortune, on some level while we are glad the misfortune is happening to someone else, we can also identify with that person. That same catastrophe has probably happened to us as well at some point in our lives. My son’s favorite You-tube video portrays a little girl who was filming herself with her stuffed dog, when suddenly her closet door falls on her. He has watched that video countless times. I don’t know why he finds it so funny, but he explodes with laughter each time he watches it. He says it is the expression of astonishment on her face when she emerges from under the door. There is also the possibility of laughing at oneself. One of my Paris friends, Nicolas, once shared an anecdote with me. We loved to play with language and to laugh together. One day, he was crossing the road, and he came across a visually-impaired woman. He offered to help her cross the road, and she accepted. He held her arm, guiding her, effusively talking, as was always his habit. He was so engrossed in the conversation, that he walked straight into a telephone pole. He immediately began to laugh, and he tried to explain to the young woman what had happened, and how absurb it was that he was guiding a blind person, yet he crashed into a pole. For some reason, she did not find the situation humorous. I thought it was very funny myself.
To conclude this post, I wish I had more opportunities to laugh. Sometimes I laugh when I am alone, just thinking about funny situations, plays on words, images. Immediately, I search my mind for someone with whom I can share the “funny”. It is wonderful to laugh together, to feel delight in life and being alive, to forget the worries of existence. To live life just one moment at a time. To feel as light as light itself.