COLUMN: Reasons to laugh in seasons of sadness

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By David Whitlock

Most of us know what it’s like to laugh at the wrong time.

The character Ray Barone in the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, got himself in a peck of trouble when his wife Debra confided in him that her parents were getting a divorce. Typical of Raymond, instead of being empathic, he found the situation laughable and couldn’t restrain his snicker. Debra made him pay severally for his faux pas.

When I was in high school, I wiped out on a mini-bike near our cabin on Lake Altus, Ok. As I slowly picked myself out of the gravel---still intact, albeit with skinned knees, a black eye, and bloody elbows—the first thing I heard was my older brother, Mark, laughing. No, he was actually howling. “Look at that,” he screamed, cackling as he doubled over, writhing in rapt amusement.

I’m glad the incident wasn’t recorded, for it could have made its way to “America’s Funniest Videos.”

But like Raymond, Mark paid a price for his laugher, for Mom bopped him hard on the top of his head with her ring finger while I was dragging myself back to the cabin. (Mark remains unrepentant to this day and still laughs about my mini-bike tragedy whenever he gleefully retells the story.)

The first funeral I attended other than that of my brother Dougie was my grandmother Moore’s. I was only seven years old at the time and laughed, not during the funeral itself but at some insignificant thing during the visitation time. Mark did help me that day. Cutting his eyes in my direction and furrowing his brow was the only signal I needed that something serious was happening. Or about to.  I put on a somber face the rest of the day.

For our instruction, the Bible tells us there is both a time to laugh and a time to cry. The trouble is, we don’t always know the time or the season.

Take the 40 days comprising what many Christians refer to as Lent: Should we laugh or should we cry? 

After all, Christians believe Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, not just 325 days of the year, but 365. Are Christians pretending that Christ is in the grave, forcing upon themselves fake frowns, feigning self deprecation, or worse, becoming “addicted to a certain kind of sadness,” as Gotye describes the estranged lovers in his pop song, “Somebody That I Used To Know?”

What season is it, after all?

Should we laugh or should we cry?

I don’t want the Almighty to reprimand me for laughing when I should be crying.

This is a season within a season, a time within time, when believers laugh with tears of sadness and weep with smiles of joy.

I cry, if not outwardly at least inwardly, thinking of what evil does to the innocent—as well as the not-so-innocent, not only the children who didn’t get the chance to vote for their life, but for people enmeshed in the web of iniquity, swamped by endless waves of guilt upon guilt upon guilt that ceaselessly crash upon an already crushed self-esteem.

This pain, in the words of John Coffey (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) in the film the “Green Mile,” is “like pieces of glass in my head all the time.”

But having taken a deep breath and praying, I smile, peacefully participating in those little disciplines I have chosen—the extra time in prayer, fasting, and giving---because by engaging in them, I am inviting the resurrected One into my 40 days, knowing he is has already triumphed and will ultimately demolish the evil in this world. And so, I am able, as Francis of Assisi advised many years ago, to “leave sadness to the devil” for “the devil has reason to be sad.”

That reminds me that even in this season of sorrow, and loss, and tragedy,  a 40 days extending far  beyond 40—a time encompassing all of life’s angst on this terrestrial ball that we call home—He gives us reasons to be fully alive.

Reasons to smile.

And even laugh.