When I was in high school, we “kidnapped” the Spanish teacher’s favorite stool and sent him ransom notes stipulating terms for its safe return. This was during the Patty Hearst era—which isn’t funny, I know—but we had a great time cutting out letters from magazines and leaving the cleverly written ransom notes in his teacher’s box in the office. We dressed the stool in a wig and dark glasses and took pictures which we included in the notes. And maybe none of this is funny to you, but we laughed and laughed and laughed at our brilliance; the kind of laughter that only friends share when they are up to mischief.
Yes, the teacher got his stool back and we all lived to laugh another day. The Spanish teacher got the last laugh as my Spanish sucks. If I’d spent more time studying and less time with the high-jinx, I coulda been an ambassador to Mexico. Instead I ended up an English teacher who couldn’t keep her students off the roof.
It helps to have good friends. Friends you go way back with and can plumb the shared memories of stories wherein you star in the joke. Recently some of my son’s school friends—who were also my former students—were over visiting the old homestead and they were laughing uproariously at the shenanigans they pulled in my class. Yes, Jake did sneak out of my class and climbed onto the school roof one sunny day in May and I had to explain to the principal how that happened under my watch. I wanted to throttle Jake back then but today I thank him for the hilarious memory. Whatever we were learning in class—and every High School teacher knows “learning” in May is really like triage in a war zone—pales in comparison to what actually happened.
It seems we have lost our shared sense of humor in this country. We are a dried up and angry people and that’s a dangerous landscape for our future. It is telling that the only place we can collectively laugh is when we are mindlessly watching kitten videos or America’s funniest bloopers. And that, to quote the president, is SAD.
There’s this thing called “laughter therapy.” It’s come to that. We need to learn how to laugh again and it seems there are ways experts have figured out to do just that. Go online and check out the videos, but first check out the “advice to make your practice safe.” Now that IS funny. Apparently, laughter dehydrates the body so they advise to “drink plenty of water” before and after your “practice.” It would be funny if you had to call the ambulance because you had a laughter stroke. I mean, it would be expensive and all, but it would be funny, right?
The ability to laugh at yourself is a sign of good mental health. The human condition is fraught with both physical and psychological pain and if we can learn to laugh at our pain, it really does tone down some of the suffering. I don’t think we can laugh away every bad thing but if we can find more to laugh at with everyone we meet, maybe we could lighten the collective mood in this country. According to the experts, if you intentionally add laughter into your daily interactions, pretty soon it will feel natural and spontaneous and, well, fun. We don’t really need experts to tell us that, do we? How about we remind each other by adding a little humor and a smile into our daily encounters with others. It doesn’t cost anything but requires practice.
And for God’s sake, make your practice safe. Drink plenty of water.
Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres laughs and writes with the MAD Players, a crack writing team that finished a new melodrama, ”Gold Meddling or Why Cain't We all Jest Git Along” which opens in February at the Avery Theatre in Etna.