As a writer, the biggest challenge most days is writing when you don’t feel like it, or writing on a topic you don’t – for whatever reason – feel comfortable with. I’m not in much of a tickle-me mood today. So I’ve been reflecting on humor itself.
When is humor inappropriate? There must be situations where a good giggle is not the proper response. A funeral? That seems like a given, yet I’ve heard many stories (including one this weekend) about a good chuckle at the final farewell of a loved one. No doubt, there are some who would find that the ultimate in inappropriate behavior. I happen to think that’s not all bad. At my grandmother’s funeral, I was staring at her body at the front as the pastor spoke the eulogy. I was overcome with the impossibleness of her being gone. I was staring at her chest, willing it to move, when I promise you, I saw it begin to move up and down. Then I saw her sit slowly up, look right at me and wink, then slowly lay back down. I know everyone around me thought I was a weirdo for the big smile on my face, but I know God gave me that moment to remind me that she was only temporarily gone from me. At my father-in-law’s visitation the night before his funeral, there was more laughter than anything else over shared stories. Even God has a fun moment or two in a funeral.
A wedding? Oh no — way too much ha-ha material there. Church? I would be the greatest of hypocrites if I said you couldn’t laugh in church.
When someone’s sick? Hm…. One of my Dad’s friends from many years ago began in his mid-age years to succumb to the ravages of diabetes. This strong, active, former policeman ended up in bed with both legs amputated at the hips. One day he was particularly cranky with his wife. She stood next to him, just looking at him…..Then pointed her finger, pushed it against his shoulder, and tipped him over in the bed like a Weeble. He was helpless to keep himself from falling. His reaction? Uproarious laughter at the irony of it all. The two ended up in gales of laughter on the bed together.
In just about any situation where someone finds humor or laughter, someone else will be offended by that very reaction. And perhaps that’s where the decision should be made. When my beloved grandmother was sick – her brain having glitched to the point where she was seeing people gone for decades and having conversations with people known only in her childhood, some of my family would laugh about it in the evenings. I didn’t find humor in that and they thought me far too serious. “You have to laugh about it, Linda.” No, I thought, no I don’t.
And there, you see, is my line – the point which should not be crossed. When the humor is at the expense of another, in my book it ceases to be funny. My biggest regrets are times when I laughed, for whatever reason, or participated in the humor, and the price was paid by someone else. Do I make fun of people? Sure. People are easy to make fun of. So where is this line?
When the person who is the subject does not find it funny.
You can make fun of my gray hair, my stature, my glasses, my goofy mistakes, even my hot flashes, and I’ll howl with you. But I would not find a fat joke funny. So it’s partially in knowing your audience. But it’s mostly in having – thank you, Jane Austen – sense and sensibility. Yesterday I abandoned both and it is to my greatest shame.
Those of us who find great power in humor, who find the funny in every situation, who count a zinging tongue to be among our most valuable assets, need to temper that power with what God gave us more of: the mind of Christ and the love of God. He doesn’t hurt His children, and neither should we.