Out and About (Sort of): Laughter is Helpful by Howard Freedlander


Have you taken time to laugh at life and yourself?

This question may seem absurd in light of hate-filled violence in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere and the ugly racist and anti-Semitic words that often accompany sickening demonstrations of bigotry.

But, harking back to the humor-filled sermons a few weeks ago of Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua during a visit there in early August by my wife and me, I am convinced that laughter might be a powerful antidote to the chaos engulfing us in our divided nation.

Be prepared, readers, for a heavy reliance on words written by Rev. Sparks in her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace.” They are far more effective than mine

“When we laugh, we take our eyes off ourselves and our problems, even if only for a brief moment. It’s in that brief moment that we are freed of our daily worries, that we become lightened—in mood and in spirit. And like a great helium balloon, we rise up and float above the concerns of our world below.

“Think about how much we worry about the things that growl outside our tent. It’s funny really. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much we do or how many problems we solve or what we overcome in this lifetime, the size of our funeral will always depend solely on the weather. If only we would laugh a little bit, we might smarten up.”

For sake of reference, Sparks was and still is (at times) a stand-up comedian and former trial lawyer. She became a religious leader after practicing law, serving up comedy and spending two years traveling overseas and domestically before answering the call to become a Baptist pastor.

For full disclosure, I like to laugh but don’t do it enough. Though retired, I live a busy life as a very serious volunteer board member for a few non-profits, as an obsessive alumnus of my university and as a concerned grandparent worried about what the future holds for the following generations.

So, if I truly took Sparks’ advice, I would laugh at myself two mornings a week as I struggle to cope with the demands of a 22-year-old trainer at a gym that I have frequented since I retired in May 2011. In fact, this earnest young man and I do laugh, as I try to alleviate my discomfort (not that bad) by talking incessantly—and asking him if I can go home early.

If I further took Sparks’ guidance to laugh, I would have questioned my sanity last Thursday when I volunteered to take my nearly 17-year-old grandson on a campus tour of St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St, Mary’s City in southern Maryland. I tried hard, at my oldest daughter’s direction, to avoid hovering over my grandson and asking too many questions, as is my wont. I laughed later at my restraint. It was tough being laid back and allowing my grandson to claim space as an aspiring college student.

“Laughter is a source of creativity Studies have shown that the mind associates more broadly, connects more easily, and sees more solutions when people laugh. We find jokes or comments funny because they juxtapose seemingly unrelated things or ideas. And that’s creativity: putting things together in a unique way. When we think creatively, we are more productive and more readily able to solve problems.”

Like most people these days, I read newspapers and watch TV news and want to weep. I listen to our president and want to scream for a better moral outcome. I watch scenes or, at least, the aftermath of domestic and foreign terror, and I seek answers to unexplainable behavior.

Our nation and our world seem devoid of humor. Unless you are a comedian and make your living in the world of sarcasm and cynicism. Yes, this humor is funny—at someone’s expense.

At this risk of climbing my own shaky pulpit and sounding a clarion call for a quest to find a common ground with those with whom we strongly disagree, I do wonder if laughter might provide a conduit for friendship, fellowship- and civil discourse. I’m not suggesting we form a circle, link arms and tell jokes. That seems forced and insincere. Instead, I am suggesting we might parry a disagreeable point of view with humor and goodwill.

Easier said than done, right?

This is a good point to end this column by quoting again from Rev. Sparks’ book: “Like a good roll of duct tape, humor bonds us to each other. It strengthens us as a community, and it allows us to transcend our differences and our barriers. When we laugh with someone—whether it is a stranger, a friend, a lover or an enemy—our worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. It is then that defenses are lowered, ideas and feelings are shared, and the best in each other gleams forth.”

Laughter might not heal all wounds. It can, however, reduce the pain.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. What a great article. We love Susan Sparks as a member of AATH (Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor). http://www.aath.org/ She has spoken at several of our conferences. Our AATH mission is to study practice and promote healthy humor and laughter. Our conference will be held in San Diego this year from April 12-15, 2018. The topic is: “Resilience: Harnessing the Power of Humor”. We would love to have you join us. Thanks for a wonderful article on our favorite topic!

  2. Ken Sadler aka DR Goodwrench says:

    Thanks for this essay. I am happy to know about Rev. Sparks and her book. I am forwarding this piece to all of our Caring Clowns who attempt to practice what she is preaching on a weekly basis. Our ranks are currently depleted by the absence of DR Buttons whom you may know. Liz’s transformation into DR Buttonseach week would be a great reminder to you both as to what Rev. Sparks is saying and a wonderful uplift to patients who can truly benefit by laughing and ” taking their eyes off themselves and their problems”.
    I do appreciate Out and About especially this one. Thanks again,

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