Living with Humor

Life is difficult but it can become intolerable when the child in you dies. When that child dies, so does your sense of humor, and your ability to laugh at life. I know from experience how easy it is to focus on what is troubling you versus what heals and sustains you. We must be willing to make the effort to see through the darkness and find the light. As Helen Keller said, “If you face the sunshine you do not see the shadows.”

Many years ago, when I was in pain trying to deal the many emotional aspects of being a physician that we are not trained to handle, I began to write about my painful experiences every night before going to bed. It was before I knew this was therapeutic. It was just something I felt compelled to do to help me deal with the events of the day and not just bury them within me. I kept it hidden from the family because it was not a pleasant thing for anyone to read. One night when I was very tired I forgot to hide it and my wife Bobbie, found it. The next morning she said, “There’s nothing funny in your journal.”

“My life isn’t funny.”

“You have us laughing at dinner every night.” Then she went on to tell me stories I had told her and the children that had me laughing but that never got into my journal. From then on I made notes not just about the painful events in my life but also about the humorous and healing events. In this way what is stored within is not just the pain but the joyful events too.

When I am out in the world I sense it through the eyes and ears of a child. I follow directions exactly as they are given. So sign here gets me to write, here, on the slip. Sign in at the doctor’s office, gets an in from me.

Let me share a few comments from children about the Bible. A Christian should have only one spouse. This is called monotony. Jesus was born because Mary had an immaculate contraption. Moses died before he reached Canada and David was the Hebrew king who was skilled at playing the liar. Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night. I could go on but I think you get the message.

I will conclude with a word from our son Jeff, “Life sucks. Most people suck and if you wake up one day and the world is beautiful and everyone loves one another, you’re dead.” I think there are other options too.

It takes courage to be a clown. One must have self-esteem and not worry about what others think of you. Simple examples in my life are a mail box at the bottom of our driveway that is twelve feet in the air and painted on the side it says, AIR MAIL. Everyone knows our house at the post office.

When people ask, “How do you deal with stress?” I answer, “Drugs and alcohol.” Most people know I’m kidding. The truth is I learned to handle stress by not leaving anything unfinished. The other day before leaving home I finished the Kahlua, red and white wine, Valium and Prozac. I can tell you I haven’t felt so freakin’ good in a long time.

When you act like a clown you will meet other clowns and children of all ages.  Especially when you enter an area that says, “Nobody allowed here,” and tell the guard you are “a nobody.” One guard earned my respect and a hug by telling me he was making me somebody and so I had to leave.

I have embarrassed our five children for years and it has saved me a lot of money. When we dined out and the waiter asked, “How’s everything?” I would answer, “Why are you upsetting me in the middle of dinner. If you read the papers you would know what a mess the world is. So please let me eat in peace.”

At an Italian restaurant I would order Chinese food to confuse the waitress who was never quite sure if I was kidding, confused or retarded. The last time I went to pick up a pizza my wife had called to order they had three containers of Chinese food waiting for me on the counter. And the whole place had a good laugh. We all became kids again.

The greatest benefit our children now realize. When they do something a bit bizarre they hear people say, “Do you know who his father is?” And they are off the hook.

The other day I called our oldest son, Jonathan at his office. He is an attorney. I told his secretary I was an FBI agent who had to discuss an investigation with Jon. She interrupted his meeting to insist he answer the phone. He said, “It’s my father.” The secretary argued with him that it was an FBI agent. He said, “Okay, hand me the phone.” He then said, “Yes Dad, what is it?” His secretary now knows better.

The ultimate benefit of all this I observed at my father’s death. If I asked you what would you have your family talk about when you were ready to die so you could die laughing what would you answer? The right answer is for them to tell stories about you and hopefully you will give them enough material so you can die laughing as my father did.

The first story my mother told ended with the fact that my dad he lost a coin toss and therefore, had to take her out. From then on things got worse and I have no idea why my mom kept dating him but those events let him go looking joyful and free of fear. It was a gift to everyone in the room.

Here is how to add the power of humor to your life:

1. Keep a journal of whatever makes you smile for the next week, from emails too events. Reread it every evening at bedtime.

2. Act like a child today and perform or ask questions just like a preschoolers would. Sex is a good topic if you are at a loss as to what to do.

3. Embarrass someone you know today by your actions. Example: If you are invited to a black tie only event wear only a black tie.

4. Dress like a clown today and act as if you do not notice anyone’s reaction and as if you are normal as you point out any problems apparent on them.

5. It’s never too early to prepare to die laughing. So start accumulating material and giving your family things to talk about that will make you laugh. Start asking them to share memories now.

Just remember—when you laugh you lose an awareness of the physical aspects of life and transcend your troubles.