A spoonful of sugar
helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way
~ Mary Poppins
I’ve written about this general theme before (“Sounds of Francillia’s laughter”), and alluded to it throughout many of these postings, but I deem it to be of such great importance that it merits revisiting over and over again. In this entry—based on experiences of the past couple of weeks—I’d like to offer a few more illustrations of how laughter is the most effective (and most readily accessible) spoonful of sugar. Life offers us every manner of bitter medicine…and while we can be assured that it’s all prescribed by the Divine Physician, taking it with a hearty dose of laughter makes it go down a whole lot easier. And makes it sweeter to the taste, too.
In last week’s posting I wrote about Siila (and her suitcases full of gifts), but what I neglected to mention is that she is a mischief-maker extraordinaire. She’s the one who, during a Bahá’í Conference or summer school, will sneak into the dormitories and paint the foreheads of her slumbering victims with bright red nailpolish. During her period of service in at the Bahá’í World Centre, she once squirted a member of the Universal House of Justice with a squirt gun, and de-feathered the pet parrot of another member with a hand-held vacuum. While in Dominica last week, she delighted in filling up coconuts with water from the pipe, and offering “refreshing coconut water” to thirsty and unsuspecting passersby. We had many a good laugh during her three-day visit, even when we were the victims of her pranks. Yet mingled with Siila’s playful mischievousness are the qualities of an army general. She possesses a commanding ability to incite action, even if it means literally pulling people out of their seats. I marvel at how she is able to combine such an unrelenting spirit of discipline with a perpetual sense of humor. And I believe that part of the reason why her style of encouragement is so effective is that while she’s barking at you to “get up off your lazy but and be of service!”—and pity the poor soul who dares remain immobile—she does so with a twinkle in her eye, and laughter in her heart.
I have written a few times about out Nineteen-Day Feasts, and quoted the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that this sacred gathering “rejoiceth the heart.” Unfortunately, I’ve attended some Feasts in various communities that are rather stiff and somber (as these are the early early days of the Faith, we’re still in a learning mode, which is totally ok…as long as we let ourselves learn). There must, of course, be an appropriate degree of reverence during the devotional portion, and a measure of structure and discipline during the administrative portion, but I think there’s much we can do (in all three of the portions), to up the rejoicing factor. At the suggestion of a new member of the community, we tried played a game during the social portion of a recent Nineteen-Day Feast. (It’s called “Eek-Zoom,” where you have to turn your head from side to side, saying either “Eek” or “Zoom” without showing your teeth.) It may seem silly, but let me tell you, we laughed so hard during that game that we shook the wooden walls of the Bahá’í Centre. “We should play a game at every Feast!” some of the friends enthused afterwards. And why not? Games can be terrifically unifying…especially ones that make us laugh. I believe that the power of prayer unifies and uplifts the hearts like no other force on earth, but laughter is a pretty close second. So when we combine the two, say, at a Nineteen Day Feast, we can be assured that hearts will rejoice.
A few nights ago, my company and I (remember, we’ve been having a lot of slumber parties this past month) were awoken by a midnight phone call. Mrs. M’s son was in trouble, and she, her granddaughter and I set off down the road to find him before the trouble got worse. It could have been a really tense walk. But instead of letting themselves be consumed with worry, Mrs. M and the young girl laughed. Despite the fear that must’ve been weighing on their hearts, they laughed at the way I hunched my shoulders as I walked. They laughed at the ragamuffin dogs that howled mightily at us as we passed. And they positively guffawed at the beat-up old car that put-putted its way down the road with two flat tires. “Where that partner is going at One AM I have no idea,” hooted Mrs. M, “But I bet I could reach there before him with my own two feet!” Thus, with a little humor, the heaviness of the predicament—at least for the duration of that moonlit walk—was dispelled.
Recently, I began reading The Priceless Pearl, Ruhiyyih Khanum’s reflections on the life of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. His existence, she writes, was “an ocean of daily work and sorrow,” and her descriptions of the agonies that the Guardian endured, day after day, are so heart-rending that one often has to close the book and look away. And yet…we also learn in these pages that Shoghi Effendi laughed. Ruhiyyih Khanum tells us that the Guardian, “like his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, had a delightful sense of humour… His eyes would fairly dance with amusement, he would chuckle delightedly and sometimes break out into open laughter.” And he loved to tease, and tell jokes. Ruhiyyih Khanum recounts that she was the subject of continuous teasing on the Guardian’s part, and once he even told her (during the war) that Winston Churchill had been killed, just to see her dramatic reaction! When Ruhiyyih’s mother, May Maxwell passed away, Shoghi Effendi brightened her spirits by joking that he could picture her mother “as she wandered about the Abhá Kingdom making a thorough nuisance of herself because all she wanted to talk about was her beloved daughter on earth!” On another occasion, the Guardian entered the house covered in mud. When asked by his startled family and friends what had happened, he replied that he’d gotten in a fight with General Mud, and General Mud had won. They all had a good laugh over this one. I have to hope, as I read this beautiful and heartbreaking book, that the Guardian’s ability to laugh made the burdens he bore just a smidgen lighter.
We have been watching the Mary Poppins movie a lot these past few weeks. The kids just can’t get enough of it (as I never tire of it either, this suits me just fine). And there’s one scene in particular that everyone wants to watch on repeat…I call it the “I Love to Laugh” scene. Maybe you’re familiar with it. Jane, Michael, Mary Poppins, and Bert visit Uncle Albert, who’s experiencing a relapse of a very special condition: when he’s overcome with laughter, he floats up to the ceiling, where he hosts tea parties, and turns somersaults, and has a jolly good time. The kids and I watch this scene over and over, and laugh and laugh. Like Uncle Albert, those children recognize the beauty and necessity of laughter. So evening after evening we smoosh onto the living room sofa and play that dearly loved DVD, singing along with Mary Poppins and co, and laughing ’til our bellies ache. And though our bodies may not float upwards, turning somersaults and having tea-parties on the ceiling, our spirits—most assuredly—do. And it is so very sweet.