The Balm of Laughter: Bringing Light to Dark Thoughts

broadway musicalOn the stage, a lavish musical was unfolding, complete with booming orchestra, bold singers, and catchy choreography. I was watching the action but my mind was on a move we’d recently seen, Still Alice, which featured a brilliant 50-year-old woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. More accurately, I was analyzing what I would do if I had Alzheimer’s: the note I might carry around, asking for people’s kindness and patience if I should repeat myself or get lost … or I worried about the burden on my children and wondered if there would be a point where I’d  want to die. Then I thought about my mother: even when times were really tough and sad with my mom, I never wanted her to die; I never wanted to be without her company. Then I … Well, you get the idea; instead of enjoying a light-hearted Broadway road show, I was stirring up negative energy and stewing over uncertainties outside of my control.

At intermission, I reported these morbid thoughts to Ron. He listened carefully, then said, “Well, at least you can get a book out of this.”

I looked at him blankly. “What book?”

He looked right at me. “Well, instead of Still Alice, you can write Used to Be Deborah.

I burst out laughing; Ron laughed, and I was back in the present.

Ron’s comment had reminded me of one of my dad’s favorite jokes.

Warning: this joke is really not that funny but it stuck with me.

A man wanted to find out the meaning of life. He climbed a high mountain and consulted a guru; this sage guruman told him he needed a daily chanting and meditation practice. Every day, he needed to sit on a meditation cushion and first chant, “Sensa, Sensa, Sensa. “ for one hour.

Then he needed to intone, “Huma, Huma, Huma” for another hour.

The man did this and after two weeks of feeling more frustrated than enlightened, he returned to the guru and said, “It isn’t working. I’ve had no revelations and the whole exercise is about to drive me crazy.”

The guru stroked his white beard (My father’s gurus frequently sported long white beards) and contemplated for what seemed like 400 hours. After 30 interminable minutes, he said, “Well, my son, you are now ready to put these two sacred chants together.  First one, slowly, then the other slowly and build up to where you’re saying the hallowed words quickly, one after the other.”

The man hurried home, relieved to have a new assignment.

He intoned, “Sensa.” Then he chanted, “Huma.”

Faster and faster he chanted, until the two words blended into the true meaning of life, “Sensa Humor.”

How do we keep our “Sensa Humor” in the midst of uncertainty and chaos?guru joke

For me, it’s glorious groaning puns, wise and witty friends, and a willingness to laugh. How about you?

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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