Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Sad Women

A nice spring evening. Two sad women joined me at my table in my favorite old greasy spoon cafe. They said they liked the new environmental bumper sticker on my car outside, and I said what a nice surprise to see them. And because they were caring idealists we talked about the sad state of the world, about stuff that could make us quite glum or infuriated if we let it. But the dire state of the planet was not why they were sad.

No, it was just that one friend, especially, was having a blue day. No use pretending otherwise, we agreed. Let's not deny the reality of mood swings or whatever it was that might have unconsciously triggered such a day of shadows. So instead—we laughed. We savored greasy food and sucked old-fashioned milkshakes and we laughed. Blame the laughter on me.

Towards the end of the evening, as we headed out the door, I joked, "Oh my God! Here you are trying to be blue and I've medicated your feelings! Oh, how awful!" As we stood by our cars we agreed it was sure nice to have switched to a cheerful evening. And off I drove.

As I cruised along the river I could have reflected on how my inner nerd had been satisfied by our serious talk of science and the environment, or how my inner child got to show off my travel photographs, or how my grownup self got to have an adult conversation. Instead I thought about humor. Children laugh so easily while we adults are so serious. What gives? We all know how to be heavily burdened, and competitive, and worried about "enough-ness." But humor? We claim to prize it but we sure don't do it much. In fact my default self—let's face it—is to be a serious nerd! (can there ever be a non-serious nerd?)

Or, at least, that used to be my usual self, back in another life. But on this night I was able to help two friends escape from gloom. Isn't that nice? But how?

It helped that my travel pictures allowed me to "pull their legs." First, I showed a set of pics from the "San Juan Islands"...actually from a town a couple hundred miles inland that had been used as a movie set! (for Snow Falling on Cedars) We chatted. Then, back to the photos, I showed the very crowded "beaches of Rio de Janeiro" where crowds increase towards dusk as the heat of the day eases off... actually pics of a day of international fireworks in Vancouver!

So to my "how?" question I find two answers: sudden permission to be silly, and repetition: It would not have been the same to omit the chatting for repetition allows for a rhythm to build...or something like that. Speaking from my nerd side: To merely have a series of jokes, without any chatting, would have been irritating. Say, did you know that songs use repetition? There is something comforting in the moment of returning to a familiar chorus. Like a conversation that turns again to warm safe laughter.

When I spoke of "sudden permission" I might have more accurately said, "Sudden surprise permission"... Surprise is an integral part of humor, and of traveling too, for surprise seems to catapult us into the child world. Indeed,  a common romantic moment is when our sweetheart makes us a surprise meal. Presto!, a "surprise moment" of loosening up for the magical child to be taken care of. In that state, wondrous things can happen.

Humor, I suppose, is a way of taking care of those we care about. For a nerd to learn humor it might be best to start with taking care of people via small talk. The principle is the same, I think: putting the human heart ahead of seriousness. In conclusion, let's take care of each other.

As my new bumper sticker reads: ...We all live downstream.

Sean Crawford

On a nice evening

footnote: one of my favorite comic book collections is Strangers in Paradise. The comic's title comes from the Tony Bennett song that comments that without love we are just- (title)

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