The Power of Humor
Humor is reason gone mad.
Humor is one of our greatest gifts. In tense and trying situations there is nothing that can diffuse our distress than a good joke or belly laugh. Well placed humor can dramatically change the dynamic of a perspective and our feelings about a difficult circumstance. It can clear the air and put us in a much better place or more positive path. When we are inclined to see only the darkness surrounding us, or the hopelessness of our seemingly hopeless situation, humor can begin to lift our spirits and drive the darkness and hopelessness away.
For me (Michael), my wife and I would NEVER have been able to get through the last twenty-four years of life with our youngest son Matthew. The challenges that his disabilities bring can so often weigh very heavily on us. They weary us, drain us, and leave us at times feeling very overwhelmed. But so often, in the intensity of certain challenging moments when he is hitting us, pulling our hair, throwing things with the object of breaking them, or banging his head until it bleeds, the gift of humor has gotten us through. It has prevented many melt-downs on our part and kept us from lashing out at him or one another in an unhealthy way. On the day in which Matthew was first diagnosed with autism, on top of his severe mental retardation, we were meeting with a team of specialists. The MD. in charge asked us if Matthew often exhibited certain strange and unusual behaviors. Literally, at the moment she asked, he actually did exhibit a strange and unusual behavior. I looked at her, pointed to him in action and said, “You mean, like that!” And everyone in the room burst into laughter. The MD looked at us and said, “That you can laugh in the midst of this is a VERY good thing! It will serve you well. It will help you a lot to deal with all the challenges you will face.” Having that permission, knowing how important it was to find humor, was very healing and continues to be. One of the ongoing jokes that Kathy and I kid each other about is how if either one of us ever suggests that we get a divorce, that person has to take Matthew in the settlement. That reminder has certainly helped to keep us together. We know that we need each other to care for him. And we know that of all the things that helps us to cope, humor is absolutely one of the best.
For me (Tom) my story might be a bit more commonplace than Michael’s, but it is one that most people who have small children could relate to very well. We have a soon to be five year old daughter, a soon to be three year old son, with twins on the way this fall. Needless to say, life can be kind of chaotic and stressful at times. I often tell people that I wish there was an ‘Idiots Guide To Parenting’ instead of having to learn through ‘School of Hard Knocks’. There are days when parenting is the hardest, most discouraging responsibility that we have in our lives. The restless nights, the endless amount of dirty diapers to change, the relentless crying and whining, the exhaustive shopping bills could leave us depleted. But we too have a strong sense of humor. We laugh often about the situation we have been handed and we find joy in what we have been given. Children truly are one of God’s greatest gifts and they do bring us much to laugh about. For example, every night my son Luke needs his sippy cup filled up with milk, not just once, but three or four times a night, and will scream on end until we meet his demands. One night, two weeks ago after a night of sporadic sleeping, Luke must have woken up to quench his unending thirst. Instead of waking Sarah and I up at 2am, Luke decided to walk down the stairs, open the refrigeration by himself, grab the ‘full’ gallon container of milk, and started to drag it up the steps on his own. Because it was so heavy, he couldn’t really lift the container by himself so we heard the thumping of the container every step all the way up to our bedroom. After finally reaching our bed, Luke with all his might, launched the gallon of milk onto our bed. He got our startled attention and conveying very clearly what he needed. We couldn’t help but laugh and we still laugh every time we think about and share the story. It was our laughter that helped us make it through another looooong sleep deprived and difficult night.
Life for all of us is filled with its fair share of difficult moments and situations which can cause us to feel defeated, drained, and deflated. But humor can be one of the greatest antidotes. So in the words of Bessie Anderson Stanley, in her poem written in 1904, entitled “Success”, which we read on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and billboards: “Live well. Love much. Laugh often.”