29 October 2009

How Do You Cope? (Counselors of Comedy)

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

(Shakespeare, from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, beginning line 139)
Here I am veering a bit from my standard fare (theology/philosophy) to take up the topic of how people cope. If I were to create an icon representing the totality of our human existence, it likely would resemble the universal symbols for theatre in which the Greek theatre masks show a smiling/laughing face (representing Thalia, the god of comedy) and a sad face (representing Melpomene, the god of tragedy).

This dramatic analogy tells us that our existence, much like a drama, is laced with successes, failures, laughter, pain, tears, mystery and agony-now, add to the drama "real life" factors such as perseverance, boredom, monotony, repetitive annoyances. And the question, how do the “actors” in this temporal "drama" grapple with the frustrating thought that satisfactory “resolutions” may not come? Indeed, we find for some unexplained reason we are forced to live with unresolved conflict, great inequities, with constant pain, or deep heartache. The question we are left with (barring the superficial, temporary deadening effects of drugs and alcohol), how do people cope? I think we grapple with the continual grind and the sometimes near-crushing defeats through two primary means: counselors (whether therapeutic or spiritual, sometimes both) and with laughter.

For a variety of circumstantial reasons, I have never been to an official “counselor” or nor do I seek out comedians. However, I have had and still have my share of both counselors and comedians though I do not pay money to see either. Most of my counselors were relatives, extremely close friends of the family and spiritual advisers. I have met comedians everywhere, and have resident comedians in my very large extended family and in my smaller but close circle of friends.

Clearly, it's not necessary to state the differences between counselors and comedians, I think though, the similarities are less obvious. Let's look at the outcome of visiting both a good counselor and a good comedian because it is identical. When you feel the "itch" returning, your mind turns to that person as the one who can "scratch" it satisfactorily.
So, what it is about a counselor that makes me wish to return? There are several things.

Obviously, she’s a person-and though this seems too trite to mention, the physical presence of another caring human brings something indefinable into the picture. Indefinable because there is something about the presence of a human that cannot be replicated in any other manner. Secondly, she is there for me. Her entire existence at that moment is for me-and none of it is for her. She also tries to put herself in my shoes to understand my world through my eyes. And, without judgment, she speaks both comforting and encouraging words. When we separate, we leave with a handshake or hug, or a check, and a promise to see each other again.

How is this similar to a comedian?

The comedian is physically there, and he is there for me. Only a failed comedian speaks on topics which interest himself alone. Good comedians know to make me laugh, he needs to see my situations through my eyes. So, he's forced to project himself, and he places himself in my world, imagining himself to be me. In this way, he is there for me. Yes, though he is gratified by a smile and a chuckle, much as the counselor is gratified by tears or a resolution, still, his emotions remain outside of my concern. In a way, he serves me, I do not serve him. The comedian speaks into my situation and draws a perspective that I had not seen before. In some way, like the counselor, without judgment, his words break that awful load of concern or tension. And the chuckle, guffaw, or laugh he eventually elicits helps me recall that the sun continually shines on the backside of the clouds. When we depart, I know we'll see each other again, for he needs to make me laugh as much as I need to laugh.

If you think of your life as making a trail in an enormous field of mature corn. You feel lost and helpless, all you can do is go forward. There are other people also making their way through this field, sometimes you run in to them. When you run in to a counselor, he will ask you which turns you took, you won't ask him. All types of hand-wringing about your wrong turns will pour out of your lips. A good counselor lets you talk, and when you're ready, comforts you, and perhaps, gives you some advice on the next few turns (which he has already taken). If he’s not taken those turns, he’ll at least help you think them through.

When you meet the comedian in the cornfield, he already has in mind those wrong turns you took, you do not need to open your mouth-he does it for you. So while he's voicing your internal frustrations, he's able to make light of the wrong turns: revealing to you, possibly the ludicrous decisions you made (or are about to make). As you are laughing, you realize you laugh out of surprise for the insights into your life-but mostly for the perspective he brings. Though he's not aloof, he's bringing fresh eyes and a new perspective on your turns. To say the obvious in a subtle way is somehow comforting: we're all lost in this cornfield, we're all making wrong turns-and no one gets out alive.

In a way, only God “hovers above” the cornfield and can see the entire layout, the entrances, exits and pitfalls. The counselor is there to provide comfort for the wrong turns you have taken, while the comedian provides relief, reassuring you that though this is your first time through the cornfield, everyone makes the mistakes of the same sort.

There is some sort of comfort in knowing that you are not the only person in the history of mankind who has walked through a fancy restaurant with toilet paper clinging to the bottom of his best shoes.

The question, then is not: is the counselor/mentor or the comedian necessary, but when are they needed? God has put people in our life who cause us pain and pleasure. But, He's also given us people who are gifted in providing us with soul care, a listening ear and a caring heart. Sometimes they come in the form of counselors, but sometimes they are comedians.

Men have been wise in different modes, but they have always laughed the same way.
(Samuel Johnson)

  • Charity Johnson