A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
- Proverbs 17:22
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
- Nehemiah 8:10-12
“Author and political commentator Norman Cousins wrote an extraordinary book, The Anatomy of an Illness, in which he describes the arthritis that had essentially crippled him. He was told it was not curable. But the doctors were wrong. Cousins found a therapy that, coupled with nutrition and vitamins, all but ended his debilitation. What was it? Watching old slapstick comedy movies like the Marx Brothers, Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy. His objective: laughter.
“Whether you giggle, chuckle, guffaw or just laugh out loud, you laugh! Laughter, or simply smiling, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. Researchers in Japan have discovered that laughter actually lowers red blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes by altering gene expression. Laughter has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system, and reducing platelet aggregation and vascular inflammation. Laughter may also help the overall healing process in cancer therapies.
“Who knew? That’s easy—God did, and He told you! When you don’t feel joyful, when the cares of the daily grind are getting you down, try laughing. If you need to be like Cousins and use old movies or television shows to get you laughing, go ahead. Better yet, just stand naked in front of your full-length mirror. You’ll have two options…laughing or crying. Choose the former.
“When you are at peace with God, when His joy fills your heart, you can allow negative emotions to fade into the air. With that done, ‘if you’re happy and you know it, let your face show it.’ Pray that pure laughter would be a part of your communication skills.”
- Presidential Prayer Team Devotion
My parents faced a terrible dilemma when I was in second grade, there about. After returning from World War II, my Dad wanted to start a farm, a turkey farm. He built a modern plantation, of sorts, on the old family property with thousands of turkeys, his own processing plant and hatchery, and a lot of employees, but by the time I was in second grade, he had been foisted by constantly changing FDA regulations. He had sunk himself into debt trying to keep up with the moving target and lost. We basically lost everything: the farm, our home, a bit of the feeling of self-worth and self-respect, and I lost my Dad. He was still part of the family, but he took a job on the road with one poultry processing equipment company after another, installing the equipment like what we had sold for scrap metal at pennies on the dollar, installing it in other people’s processing plants. We called them chicken plucking plants. I have loved alliteration from an early age.
I say that not to garner sympathy, but to set the stage. My brother and sister had left for college. There was just my mother and I at home, and my mother had lost her chance at the American dream. The dream had become a nightmare, and she was sad.
Somehow, I was given free reign, within certain limits, on what to watch on TV. It was safer in the 50s and 60s. I chose every situation comedy that I could find. I chose every variety show, especially those with stand-up comics / comedians. Red Skelton was my hero. I loved the music of Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer (at least some of it), Spike Jones, and Louie Jordan. If we saw movies, they were comedies. If Joy had left the building, little young me at less than 10 years old was determined to bring it back in any form possible.
Of course, Joy does not depend on circumstances, but it depends on God’s Love residing in our hearts. But explain that to a seven-year-old.
Having lost our home, we moved around a bit. We moved back home, to the farmhouse, once my Dad had saved enough to buy a few acres and the house back. I was sixteen and a junior in high school. My friends told me of a new comedy show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. I tuned in for the start of their second season. (I had been going to Scout meetings when it had appeared in the first half season of the show.)
It was a sketch comedy show. At the end of a sketch, I heard my mother wheezing. I looked. She was clutching her heart with both hands. Her face was void of color and contorted in a grotesque fashion that looked extremely painful or it indicated that my mother was in extreme pain. Her eyes were crossed. She was gasping for air. “Huuunk! Huuunk! Huuunk!”
I was an Eagle Scout. I had all the training. I knew first aid, and the first step was to get help.
I ran to the wall phone and gently lifted the receiver. I carefully held my breath as I listened. You see, we were on a party line. Our ring was one long and two shorts, but that meant we shared the line. Mrs. Henry, who lived about a mile up the road, had what they now call a “She Shear She Shed.” She ran a Beauty Parlor out of a small shack next to her house. If Mrs. Stegall hadn’t come by the shop that day, Mrs. Henry would stay on the phone for hours each night, catching up on the local gossip. As I lifted the receiver, I was thinking, ‘How can I say that my mother was having a heart attack without it sounding like a teen-age prank?’ I didn’t breathe, because that was basic party line etiquette. Find out if anyone was on and replace the receiver if they were, without their notice or without listening in.
Praise the Lord! I got a dial tone. I quickly thumbed through the phone book to find the “A” in the Yellow Pages. We were a reasonably small county. Our phone directory was about 3/8 of an inch thick, 1 cm, with white pages in front and yellow pages in back. I am not trying to create a joke by saying I thumbed through to find the “A” for Ambulance.
About that time, my mother was finally able to speak, “Put the phone down, Idiot! I was just laughing!”
I went back to the sofa and sat down and continued watching the show as if nothing had happened. I learned a long time ago that you never sassed my mother. But if I had heard the line from Steve Martin, I might have said, “Excuuuuuse Meeeeee! I’ve never seen you do that before!”
Note: To anyone who might be puzzled at some of these terms… Namely: Wall phone with a corded receiver, party line, one long and two shorts, a book with yellow pages in it, the fact that I didn’t just dial 9-1-1, and sassing. If these terms and phrases confuse you, ask someone old enough and they can explain it, but you probably will still not understand. And if you do not know what sassing means, you probably do it.
But back to the moral of the story… (At least, what I learned…)
Presbyterians are truly the ‘Frozen Chosen,’ and when some of them thaw, it is not a pretty sight.
Note: This is as close to an exact telling of this story as my memory allows.
I hope this made you laugh.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.