Few people understood humor better than Mark Twain, who is said to have remarked, “The source of all humor is not laughter, but sorrow.”
I know that to be true.
Thinking on his quote, I recall a long, long day spent with friends helping one of our number pack her possessions for a cross-country move. Late afternoon found two of us, tired to the bone, but working steadily away in the kitchen. We both sat on the floor, wrapping breakable items and putting them into boxes. We had finished kitchenware from nearly all the drawers and cabinets when one further drawer, suddenly visible from our position on the linoleum, caught my friend’s eye. As I was closest, she asked me to see what we had missed. I rose to my knees to open the drawer, but it was stuck. I tugged a bit, and then a bit more, and finally gave one walloping giant yank to the handle…which came right off in my hand, sending me tumbling backwards to the floor.
It was a false drawer.
I lay there on the floor, waving the broken handle above me, completely helpless with laughter, my bones seeming to have dissolved to jellyfish, while my partner in crime laughed until tears streaked down her face. After several minutes of hilarity, we finally composed ourselves and went on a secret mission to hunt down some glue and put the handle back in place—a undertaking that induced another round of stealthy, hysterical laughter.
Not exactly sorrow, that event, but certainly sheer slapstick comedy, accompanied by utter, laugh-until-you-ache hysterics. Later, driving home from that tiring day, I recalled a Dick Van Dyke routine about slapstick comedy, in which he proclaimed such base humor not to be amusing even as he stumbled about, tripping and smashing fingers and generally pretending clumsiness while the audience howled with laughter. Why, I wondered, was it funny, clowning about that way? But it was, just as my misadventure with the drawer handle had been comical.
And then there was the incident with the mailbox post… My Evil Neighbor (about whom the less said the better) was at that time the president of our condo owners association. So when my mailbox post rotted one summer and crashed to the ground, I propped it up as best I could with bricks and waited for the association, whose responsibility it was, to make repairs. The darned thing was so wobbly that it was only with extreme caution that I could ease it open each afternoon to retrieve my mail, fearful that it would topple over once more. This situation went on for 18 months, as I grew increasingly irritated. Then, late one afternoon, as I was weeding the flowerbed that surrounded the mailboxes, I reached about to lever my aging hips up from the ground, and grabbed at Evil Neighbor’s own mailbox post to balance myself.
It went crashing to the ground.
I’ve often wished I had a video of my own face at that moment! I swiftly scanned the area and saw no one watching—no cars going by in the street, no faces at windows—so I scurried hastily into my garage, hopped in the car, and got the hell outta Dodge! I drove to my daughter’s home, wheezing with laughter, and I told her and my son-in-law the whole sorry tale, all to the accompaniment of gales of laughter. (And, yes, both mailbox posts were repaired shortly thereafter.)
I’ve noticed that funerals and wakes are also bastions of hilarity. I experienced this for the first time when I was about 11 years old, and my grandfather died. My Aunt Diana gathered several of us children around her in a corner of the room far from the casket, and began to tell us hilarious true stories. Time has dimmed my memories of the tales she told us that evening; I don’t know if they were stories of my PopPop or just funny events from her own life. What I do recall clearly, though, is the comfort and protection that laughter provided us children as we dealt with incredible sorrow. I remember, too, the glares of disgust from our more staid and sedate relatives. Obviously, Diana’s efforts to provide us children and herself a path out of pain were not appreciated by all. But I have thought many times since on what a kindness she did us, gifting us with laughter in the midst of grief.
I don’t really remember too many comical misadventures in my own life, aside from the incidents of the fake drawer and the mailbox post…oh, yes, and the Great Paint Can Head Splash, which is probably best saved for another blog post. Yet we rarely see ourselves as other see us. So I hope that at my own memorial service someday, there will be hilarious, comical tales told. I hope people will smile, chuckle, and giggle at memories of my silliest moments. For while the ancient Egyptians believed that, without a name, our soul could not survive, I believe it cannot only be our name, for everything that we truly are resides in the glorious laughter limning others’ memories of us.