Tag Archives: Humor

The Sanctity of Laughter

A relative anecdote

“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world.  This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously. 

Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).

Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears.  We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”

-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College

My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore.  On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie.  They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley.  Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat.  This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner.  They never missed a movie.  “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”

My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it.  His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.  

I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.

Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.

 

Robin WIlliams- Goodnight Sweet Prince

In the midst of our push forward, whether it is for a campaign or work, or just keeping on top of our reality, the news of Robin Williams is a tragic opportunity to pause and reflect where we are.
 
In the midst of our push forward, whether it is for a campaign or work, or just keeping on top of our reality, the news of Robin Williams is a tragic opportunity to pause and reflect where we are.
 
For me, Robin was a mentor, a hero, a victory of the absurd over the downcast dour face of normalcy. The pressure to conform to a media-projected image of ‘correct behavior’ is enough to crush the free will and spirit of humanity.  It is the bravado of the comedians, the poets as well as the calmness of the wise that allow any of us to be sane. 
 
Robin attacked not only his depression but the collective despair of humanity with a lightsaber of wit that few of us could keep up with or comprehend.  He fought against the windmills and won for a long time; longer, I imagine he thought he was capable of.  Public criticism and worse, indifference acted as the Knight of the Mirrors to his valor and need to be in the saddle.  It is our image of ourselves that can unhinge us from our true being.
 

This is perhaps the most insightful thing I have read by a friend of Robin’s, Peter Coyote:

Robin William’s Last Gift

“Robin and I were friends. Not intimate, because he was very shy when he was not performing. Still, I spent many birthdays and holidays at his home with Marsha and the children, and he showed up at my 70th birthday to say “Hello” and wound up mesmerizing my relatives with a fifteen minute set that pulverized the audience.

When I heard that he had died, I put my own sorrow aside for a later time. I’m a Zen Buddhist priest and my vows instruct me to try to help others. So this little letter is meant in that spirit.

Normally when you are gifted with a huge talent of some kind, it’s like having a magnificent bicep. People will say, “Wow, that’s fantastic” and they tell you, truthfully, that it can change your life, take you to unimaginable realms. It can and often does. The Zen perspective is a little different. We might say, “Well, that’s a great bicep, you don’t have to do anything to it. Let’s work at bringing the rest of your body up to that level.”

Robin’s gift could be likened to fastest thoroughbred race-horse on earth. It had unbeatable endurance, nimbleness, and a huge heart. However, it had never been fully trained. Sometimes Robin would ride it like a kayaker tearing down white-water, skimming on the edge of control. We would marvel at his courage, his daring, and his brilliance. But at other times, the horse went where he wanted, and Robin could only hang on for dear life.

In the final analysis, what failed Robin was his greatest gift—his imagination. Clutching the horse he could no longer think of a single thing to do to change his life or make himself feel better, and he stepped off the edge of the saddle. Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear. They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do.

Our great-hearted friend will be back as the rain, as the cry of a Raven as the wind. He, you and I have never for one moment not been a part of all it. But we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice, which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift. He would beg us to pay attention if he could.”

– Peter Coyote

Photo: Robin William’s Last Gift
Robin and I were friends. Not intimate, because he was very shy when he was not performing. Still, I spent many birthdays and holidays at his home with Marsha and the children, and he showed up at my 70th birthday to say “Hello” and wound up mesmerizing my relatives with a fifteen minute set that pulverized the audience.
     When I heard that he had died, I put my own sorrow aside for a later time. I’m a Zen Buddhist priest and my vows instruct me to try to help others. So this little letter is meant in that spirit.
     Normally when you are gifted with a huge talent of some kind, it’s like having a magnificent bicep. People will say, “Wow, that’s fantastic” and they tell you, truthfully, that it can change your life, take you to unimaginable realms. It can and often does. The Zen perspective is a little different. We might say, “Well, that’s a great bicep, you don’t have to do anything to it. Let’s work at bringing the rest of your body up to that level.”
    Robin’s gift could be likened to fastest thoroughbred race-horse on earth. It had unbeatable endurance, nimbleness, and a huge heart. However, it had never been fully trained. Sometimes Robin would ride it like a kayaker tearing down white-water, skimming on the edge of control. We would marvel at his courage, his daring, and his brilliance. But at other times, the horse went where he wanted, and Robin could only hang on for dear life.
     In the final analysis, what failed Robin was his greatest gift---his imagination.  Clutching the horse he could no longer think of a single thing to do to change his life or make himself feel better, and he stepped off the edge of the saddle. Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear. They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do.
     Our great-hearted friend will be back as the rain, as the cry of a Raven as the wind. He, you and I have never for one moment not been a part of all it. But we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice, which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift. He would beg us to pay attention if he could.

_________________

 
The beauty and strength of our vulnerability allows us to recognize where we overlap, blend, bleed into one another.  We are all in need and have a strength that can support those around us while appreciating what is being offered to us. I appreciate what Peter has offered to us here. We can appreciate what Robin offered. All those victories of his, on film, live on stage and in person. They are real and live on. So often we judge or just look at the end but it is the living that reflects what is beyond what we can understand.
 
Let Shakespeare through Horatio speak for me: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
 
Love you, Ira

Father’s Day reflection

I am grateful that my family got to visit last week and that we all had a sweet time together.  We visited Ellis Island and the Tenement museum on the lower East Side of Manhattan in the first two days of their being here so, when we visited the lake across the street and my dad took off his shoes and socks to put his feet in the water, the relief of the leisure we shared was not something that was lost on me.  It wasn’t a hundred years ago that working over time in cramped quarters often yielded little more than tuberculosis.  That we are fortunate enough to have been born into a time and place where we can recognize one another and ourselves as something beyond struggle is something to uphold.
Sitting by the lake, my dad told me the story of when he was just starting out in radio.  He used to record segues between classical selections for the next day’s programming.  One day, while he was doing this, another dj came into the room. He looked only slightly annoyed to see my dad there. Then, with a certain dignity proceeded to take his clothes off and do a little dance while my dad tried his best not to laugh or mess up his recording.  The dj then put his clothes on and left the room without looking at or acknowledging my dad at all.  Later, when my dad confronted him as to what it was all about, the dj said he was passing on a long standing tradition.  He told him that in this business, there are many distractions and that you have to be able to focus on what you are doing without letting them get to you.
I feel this story has something to benefit us all ; )
May your week yield up it’s secrets to you so that you can remain focused without frowning.