Rev. Paul Graves

This nostalgic story has a present-day learning: In the late ‘40’s, I see my pre-school self, lying on the living room floor in front of the console radio on Sunday morning. I have the Sunday Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper comics before me, and I’m listening to some radio person reading those comics to me. So cool a memory!

On those Sunday mornings, I learned not only to read words; but I also became a big believer in comics. I still read, and I still love comics.

The magnetic content of those comics has changed for me over time. Now I see comics and cartoons as often healthy reminders that our world is not only a tragic place, but also a very funny place. The trick is to keep those two observations in some kind of balance.

The COVID-19 era we’re in has spawned a good deal of (no pun intended) sick humor. But it has also spawned clever, re-balancing humor. A few weeks ago, the “Pearl Before Swine” comic shows Pig writing a letter in panels 1-3: “Dear World, you’ve done lots to try and bring me down this year. But I’m still standing. IN YOUR FACE, WORLD.” Pig then turns to Rat and declares, “Sometimes you gotta let the world know who’s boss.”

Not a belly-laugher, but maybe a comic reminder of how our delusions might help us keep perspective. Much humor does just that. The healthiest humor seems focused on reminding us to take things seriously, but not ourselves.

One theory that moves me is this: emotionally and spiritually, the last thing to leave a person before that last breath is taken is often the sense of humor. As I think it should be.

George Bernard Shaw once observed: “life does not cease to be funny when people die; just as it does not cease to be serious when people laugh.” Shaw’s comment may sound almost trivial in light of the tragic numbers of COVID-related deaths in America. But at the deepest level, it is much more profound than trivial.

Sometimes we laugh because life is just silly. Sometimes we laugh because life is so serious that we need to find some inner balance. A sense of humor can provide that balance.

One time, the act of laughing is pure celebration of a wonderful moment. Another time, we laugh because it’s the only way we can handle the challenges life drops in our laps. The health of humor is discovered not in how you talk about life, but in how you see life.

Those who know me know I don’t depend only on comics and cartoons to remind me how to see life in healthy, humorous ways. I find many ways to grin, giggle or guffaw my way through the day.

If humor is one of your coping tools, as it is for me, you likely have your favorite laugh-producers. But if humor isn’t one of your coping tools, I encourage you to take another look at newspaper comics, or one-panel cartoons that can pop our delusions with a one-line zinger. You might even smile more easily.

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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