Anybody who knew Lee Rogers knows how he laughed. He had a ready chuckle for everyday, but he also had a loud, unreserved guffaw he busted out for special. That was one of his best qualities, actually. Not just his sense of humor, but his laugh.
Dad liked jokes. And teasing. And goofing around. He had stupid wigs and fake teeth and thought it was reasonable to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee” at a church talent show or make a joke in the middle of a prayer. He was the “funny” sixth grade teacher. He loved M*A*S*H and Barney Miller and claimed to hate “The Odd Couple,” but if we put it on TV, he watched it with us and laughed more than anyone.
Every time he ran into an acquaintance (literally everywhere we went) he would part with a joke and walk away chuckling. My quintessential memory of Dad has him exiting the corner store (you know, Eastman at Monroe, next to the old ball diamond), still laughing to himself, reaching for the car door where I’m waiting.
About it being his best quality–Mom would not have agreed, probably. She didn’t seem to care for it when Dad was booming at all the inappropriate goings-on at Porky’s. (How’d we end up at that movie, anyway?) He later claimed she bruised his ribs with her elbowing…
But that laugh was a good way to locate him at a big gathering. Wait… listen… there it is! Unmistakable. That direction.
Every once in awhile I hear a little bit of Dad in my own voice. Something funny catches me the right way and I bark a laugh just similar enough to his that I can’t doubt we’re related. It’s not the same, but close.
I kinda like it.
Even at my lowest ebb, way back when, and even on the not-entirely-rare bad days ever since then, I could always still laugh at funny movies and standup comedians. (Not sitcoms. Apparently, I can only laugh at things that are funny.) Al Swearengen used to make me laugh more than any comic; I’m not sure why. But then I ask myself a bigger question: how is it I–or anyone–could feel low, despondent, dipping painfully close to desperate, and yet laugh right out loud?
Part of the answer, though, is that laughter and depression are not natural enemies. Some people believe it’s a cure, but nuh uh.
Depression has as many non-cures as any illness ever invented by a neutrally-cruel universe. There are hundreds of mostly bad ideas that sufferers have tried and many others that their friends have suggested–in good faith, generally–and among these are the numbing forgetfulness of alcohol bingeing, the sweet pleasure of a Friday night date, the transformative miracle of sleep, the healing love of the right person, the restorative power of vacations, the simple warmth of hugs, the brain-altering mind-wipe of illegal drugs, and on and on… to the supposed healing power of laughter.
Many of the non-cures are fun things, but they have no more impact on mental illness (in my experience) than a festively colored water balloon against an army tank.
After Robin Williams died (a man I considered the funniest human for a many years) he was remembered by some with a quote from “Watchmen”:
(Perhaps the best response to this pairing was made by the writer John Scalzi on his blog. It’s worth looking at.)
If only humor were the cure…
Just questions. No answers. Except here’s another partial answer–if you’re hungry, and you’re thirsty, and you’re cold, and your dog is loose, aren’t you a little pleased to catch your dog? You may still be cold, and hungry, and thirsty, but you’ve solved one problem.
That’s laughter. Not a magic cure-all. Just a simple pleasure.
And sometimes a treasured memory.