Feeling Good by George Merrill


I read recently in The Week magazine about 18-year-old Evoni Williams. She works as a waitress in a LaMarque, Texas Waffle House Restaurant. An elderly man came in and ordered breakfast. His hands were not agile enough to cut the ham. He asked Evoni if she could cut it for him. She cheerfully cut the ham. Unknown to both, the incident was being filmed by a nearby customer. He uploaded it on Facebook. It went viral. It so impressed LaMarque’s mayor that he established a day in Williams’ honor. Texas Southern University’s President, Austin A. Lane, issued her a scholarship check for $16,000.

“I was raised to help,” Williams said.

Why did a customer record it and when it was circulated, struck a chord nationally?

Today, we long to feel good about something; almost anything will do. Cultural malaise is the prevailing mood these days as anxiety about declining personal safety and rising national insecurity increases. I hunger for feel-good stories. Where is Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World” when we need him?

I also yearn for laughter.

Humor is important. Physicians will tell you that humor aids the body’s healing process. It works better if you don’t take humor seriously. You’d think psychiatrists would feel the same about humor cheering our minds, but they’re mostly suspicious of anything that might suggest erotic preoccupations, and as we all know, the best jokes are typically about sex. Psychiatrists urge patients to analyze their jokes. That takes all the fun out of them.

Where then can I go today for the solace that feel-good stories generate or the relief that humor offers? I’ve put this question to myself of late as I sometimes get irritable and feel humorless.

I took careful stock of the media sources I depend on for information, the way I might examine my diet to see if I’m getting proper nutrition. I looked particularly for humor. My reading material leans heavily on the sources our President dismisses as fake news – by which he means the media and all journalism except the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

I looked over the Guardian and The Post. I read The New York Times, and The New Yorker, regularly. The Week presented me good synopses of various points of view; Harpers can be informative although heady and even inscrutable at times. A full-page section in Harper’s called ‘Findings’ presents, for unknown reasons, bewildering one line factoids like: “The moose of Isle Royale are shrinking.”

Mother Jones is a flaming liberal rag with well-researched articles; Sojourners is a thoughtful ecumenical Christian voice. Once I read a copy of Bloomberg Business Week. Then I understood why my father prophesied that I’d be a disaster running a business. I receive L.L. Bean and Land’s End Catalogues and of course, read the Talbot Spy.

I don’t read my sources cover to cover. Taking a critical look at my sources of information, I noticed that humor is as scarce as feel-good stories are. I could see I had to intentionally ferret them out.

I looked carefully at a couple of old magazines and found some humor.

In The New Yorker, Jack Handy wrote a column, “The Mysteries of Humor:” I liked this one: “If a tree falls in the forest, on top of an old man with a walking stick, does he make a sound?” Handy doesn’t try explaining it.

In the magazine, The Week, I saw this sly but informative piece about D.C.- “A Massachusetts lawmaker is calling for the ‘The General Hooker Entrance’ sign to be removed from a doorway in the State House because it is offensive to women.”

Perhaps Harper’s observation of the shrinking moose is meant to be humorous, but it needs some serious explanation which if offered would do it even greater harm.

I was satisfied that humor indeed exists in my reading repertoire. I’d just have to work a little harder to find it.

Finding feel-good articles was another story. They seem to become scarcer as government dysfunction increases. Then on March 24, I read in both The Post and The New York Times the coverage of the hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and victims worldwide, some in D.C., all marching for sane gun reform. As is often the case, feel-good things just show up when you need them most.

I felt good about the demonstrations, the way I had when Pope Francis came to the States and talked about the responsibility that we, who are privileged, have to the poor and disenfranchised. His aura of goodness and gentleness of spirit uplifted many of us who were feeling discouraged about the way of our world. Pope Francis offered us an old vision, but offered it in a way that made it seem new and fresh, filled with hope and vitality. Sadly, the momentum soon began to wane and then there was the election of 2016. Then goodness in any genre foundered.

I saw the same kind of inspired grace abounding in the young people’s demonstrations as I did in Francis’s vision, but with this encouraging difference.

Pope Francis is an aging man. He witnessed to the truth, but somehow it didn’t gain traction. The young people who are demonstrating now represent the next generation. As they grow into adulthood, they will know from their own experience the cost of violence and how precious life is.

They’ll also have learned to distinguish between public servants that serve the people and politicians who serve themselves. Best of all, with that knowledge, the youth will vote.

In that sense, the wave of the future may well be shaped not by the elders, but by youth. It is not now, as in days of old, when wisdom was passed down generationally. The young are amassing a body of understanding that disturbs them. They are, even as they speak out, being trivialized and scorned as tools of liberals, anti-American puppets, enemies of the second amendment, naive kids who know nothing. I think the children are undertaking the tough work of truth-telling so badly needed today.

But watch out, who knows? When these young people are old enough to vote, we may witness a marvelous transformation in America; a conscience will return to Congress.

Now that’s no joke, but it’s a wonderfully feel-good story.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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