I watched as my Dad prepared to dismantle and remove an old house from a newly acquired piece of property. Because the house contained a large piano, he began by tearing out an eight-foot section of exterior wall in order to load the piano straight onto a truck bed.
An old man, walking past the property, stopped to watch the work. “Taking the old house out, are ya?” he called out to Dad.
Dad looked at him for a moment and shook his head. “Nah. I’m just moving a piano.”
I laughed that day and many days since. One of Dad’s greatest gifts to his family was his wonderfully dry sense of humor.
Even as he began slipping into Alzheimer’s, his humor often pushed up through his disease like roses budding in the snow. While talking to him several months after his diagnosis, I had trouble remembering the name of an old friend. He wrinkled his forehead, leaned toward me and said so earnestly, “Son, you want me to make you an appointment with my doctor?”
More than once, I’ve watched my Mom struggle to hide her shaking laughter in church because something in a sermon or song struck her funny; I’m sure those around her just thought Mary was moved by the Spirit.
A few years ago, she absentmindedly backed the car right through the garage door. She laughed right to the edge of emotional meltdown. And, when Dad couldn’t quite grasp the humor of the situation, his good-natured stoicism drove her back into the deep caverns of convulsive laughter.
I will always be grateful for the fine example of wholesome living Dad and Mom gave me. One of the finest jewels in that treasure chest is their legacy of wholesome and full-throttle laughter. That heritage of humor will always lift and refresh our family.
No one really knows the essential ingredients of “funny.” That’s because humor, like sorrow, is a deep mystery. It churns down in the depths of our humanness, bubbles up through our chest and then tugs at the corners of our mouth. Sometimes the laughter is too strong; it snorts or tumbles or gushes out in great rolling waves.
A healthy sense of humor is more the result of being properly aligned with life than in knowing what is funny. I’ve noticed that people who live in the extremes of taking life too seriously or not seriously enough usually have a humor deficiency. One has to be centered in life in order to catch those fine glimpses of irony or to see through life’s absurdities.
In fact, the great Bishop Fulton Sheen believed that the foundation of humor is the ability to “see through things.” What a wonderful insight. Most comedians know that surprise is a crucial element in humor; it is the suddenness of seeing through something that causes laughter to erupt like a geyser. In fact, Bishop Sheen said that, “God made the world with a sense of humor, in the sense that we were to see Him through His creation . . .”
We don’t often think of laughter as part of an inheritance; but what better gift could you or I bequeath our descendants?
Doing so doesn’t mean that we must become comedians. A great sense of humor is primarily the result of trust, confidence and resilience. I personally think that a good sense of humor flows from a clear perspective on roles: God’s, mine, yours, as well as those of the various institutions and relationships in society.
Even faced with the crushing issues of our times, people who have ultimate trust in God tend to have a beautiful and appropriate sense of humor. Their reliance on Him enables them to have a light touch. They always seem to see the whimsy or caprice in a moment.
People are especially refreshed and encouraged by the good humor of leadership. Historical leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and John Kennedy were known for their fine humor in the face of adversity. I think that humor is a vital attribute of leadership; it imparts a subtle confidence that ultimate success is already won. So, we can do our work with joy, not anxiety.
That’s why humor and laughter are essentials in the parenting and grandparenting toolbox. So, go ahead, lighten up. Let God do the heavy lifting. Enjoy the journey. And, may you find the graces and attitudes that will enable you to leave a legacy of laughter.