Against laughter

A 16th century Spanish poet, Francisco de la Torre, said that “man is the only animal that laughs“, adding “and cries, but no one would have more reason to cry“. Although we are going through a history of so many deaths and wounds, laughter has a lot of appeal in today’s imagination. It is even fashionable and is used extensively by advertisers. Since the invention of “laughter therapy”, courses and workshops on the benefits of smiling have multiplied, convinced that laughter reduces tension, helps digestion, improves the immune system, helps us lose weight, makes us more attractive, lowers cholesterol and a whole host of other fantasies.

It is clear that, in a gloomy and sullen world, a radiant smile opens a crack of serenity and sympathy. The nice picture drawn by a good and saintly Claretian, Fr. José M. Viñas, where the light-hearted image of Our Lady of Good Humour appears, has done a lot of good to many. It can be easily found with the Google search engine. The Child Jesus dressed as a clown in a harlequin costume smiles under the joyful gaze of the Mother while holding in his hand a pinwheel that spins under a shower of streamers and confetti. Attached to the drawing is a prayer composed by another saint, Bishop D. Damián Iguacén. Damián Iguacén, who already enjoys the joys of heaven after long and fruitful years serving the Church.

No one doubts how necessary is that emanation of soft and radiant strength of the smile that de-dramatises situations and softens frowning hearts. It is a purified joy that springs from deep experiences such as that of feeling forgiven after having messed up, of the witty joke full of grace, of believing – and partially verifying – how in the end good prevails, or of experiencing that we can embrace each other as brothers with a bond capable of withstanding the worst storms. It is the smile of someone who has been in hell, and has emerged unscathed in body and spirit, without succumbing to rancour, hatred or defeat. People who have refused to take refuge in self-pity or revenge. They have understood that love wins, and they have decided to love, standing up to the unjust.

That said, it is also true what the biblical sage Qoheleth says when he states in one verse that “like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the mirth of a fool” (Eccl 7:6). Certain coarse and trivial laughter indicates nothing but vulgarity. They are as unpleasant as they are repellent. Or the naïve or superficial grimace of one who knows nothing. Or the evasive fidgeting of someone who dismisses himself from the world. Much less the sniggering, poisoned winks of sarcasm that hurt the deepest. This is not healthy humour, nor can it be confused with true joy. In Xavier’s castle there is an image of a Christ who, from the cross, smiles. In that contrast, between failure and joy, pain and happiness, there is a whole statement about life, about love, about meaning. Smiling in the face of death, of injustice, of the immoral, of the inhuman. Smile when you see, with clarity, that love has the last word. To smile, even through tears. This is the stone from which the most beautiful stories are carved. That is why perhaps another biblical sage will say: “A fool laughs loudly, while a wise man barely smiles in silence” (Sir 21:20).

Juan Carlos cmf

(PHOTO: Dan Cook)


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