Mark Twain once said that humor is tragedy plus time. That’s about sums it up for me. Bad things do happen to good and bad people alike. Sometimes the good people gets it worse. But over time, time heals. We look back and we smile at the storm. That is why humor is tragedy plus time.
The reality is that we somehow overestimate the depth of our tragedy and underestimate our resilience to it. In other words, we give bad times more credit and attention and allow it to overwhelm us. Is that our default setting? Can we override its program? Can we reprogram our program?
Here is my point: Humor is tragedy plus time and this is how I reframe the perspective: Humor is directly proportional to my temporal distance from the tragedy.
So, the farther away I am from the tragedy as measured in days, months and even years, the more humorous my recollection of it becomes. Over time, even the hardest of time, if we brave through it, becomes not just bearable, but even laughable.
As such, we may be victims of our circumstances when it first hits us, but we will not be victims for long. Time invariable makes us stronger if it doesn’t kill us and stronger still when we can laugh at ourselves.
When the past no longer haunts us, but instead causes us to look back with a smile, we will then know for sure that we have become better for it. We have finally overcome it.
Seen in this light, humor is therefore the last emotional marathoner to complete the full recovery race just after denial, pain, anger, sorrow and acceptance have run their course.
Humor is also our weapon against tragedy. It is not so much about laughing out loud at our personal misfortune but more about a state of acceptance and then moving forward with our life. We are then able to see the whole context with the benefit of hindsight. Over time, we learn from it and become wiser.
Tragedy is of course not a funny business. Nobody goes to a funeral and burst out laughing. Or giggle wildly (without losing one’s mind) after receiving a tragic news concerning a loved one or oneself. If humor is as humor does, then tragedy has its season as well.
I once read that in ancient China, when a father dies, the son is expected to set up a tent beside his gravestone to mourn for three years. Imagine that. The son has to bunk in with his deceased father for 36 months! In the meantime, he has to put everything on hold.
I know that there is a time for mourning but isn’t this a tad overkill? But there is a point to this ancient tradition.
You see, if there is a time for mourning or sadness once tragedy strikes, surely, there is also a time for healing, forgiving, moving on, rejoicing and thanksgiving. In fact, time is rather merciful to allow us not to live every experience, that is, the good and the bad, all at once, but to spread them out as evenly as possible over a lifetime.
And it is incumbent on us to view it all with a mountaintop perspective. The good and bad times must have its place and season in our life. It must be fairly spread out. Like the son who has lost his father, we set up tent with them, that is, tragedy or misfortune, for a season, and no longer than is necessary – because suffering is inevitable but misery is optional.
Thereafter, we pack our tent up and move on. We carry the memory of the past in our heart without the sting, the pain and the hopelessness. We then move forward from there and enter into the next phrase of our life in preparation for the next challenge. This time we are stronger for it. This time we carry the emotional wounds of resiliency. And in gaining recovery over time, we will then be able to look at our past with a sense of unhurried humor.
So, going back to where I first started, humor is tragedy plus time. Indeed it is, because there is nothing more humor-empowering than the truth, and the truth about life is more about what is wrong with it than what is right. Quite ironically and counter-intuitively, it is the wrongness about life that makes for good comedy.
Everything that is humorous about life (or about us) starts with a slip, a miss, a crack, a lapse, a fluke, a trip, a kerfuffle, a gaffe, and a muddling and struggling through. There is scant humor to be had when everything is right with life (or about us). A mistake when we learn from it (or a tragedy when we finally overcome it) will put a smile back on our face.
And if a good joke is all about timing and a pause, then in confronting life’s tragedy, we too need timing and a pause to uncover its lighter side. Cheerz.