CHARLOTTE, NC: The first Friday of October every year is World Smile Day. It was the brainchild of Harvey Ball, the commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts who created the “Smiley Face” in 1963. In 1999, we celebrated the first World Smile Day. and it has been an annual tradition ever since.
So what does this have to do with ALS?
Remembering how to laugh
Not so very long ago but in the recent past, we somehow seem to have forgotten how to laugh. We have become overly sensitive to any slight, perceived or otherwise, by being offended when someone makes a joke.
Years ago, when I was a television sportscaster, I was reporting the New Year’s Day bowl games and made the remark that the team that lost in the Sugar Bowl was beaten so badly that they “played like they had diabetes.”
My intent was not malicious. I was only trying to make the story more descriptive and colorful, but the response I got from viewers let me know immediately that I had crossed the line. I apologized but my intent was not to be hurtful in any way.
There have been numerous comments by broadcasters much more prominent than I ever was which stirred the emotions of minorities across the country; Howard Cosell, Jimmy the Greek and Ben Wright to name a few.
Of course, perhaps the world’s greatest offender is our own president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Laugh and the world laughs with you
But whatever happened to the idea presented by author and poet Elia Wheeler Wilcox who said, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone”?
Has our world become so serious that we have forgotten how to laugh?
For me, that’s where ALS enters the picture.
Recently a fellow ALS patient referred to the 2012 film Ted, an irreverent Teddy bear come to life who made the comment to the movie’s evil protagonist, “From one man to another, I hope you get Lou Gehrig’s disease.” This alarmed some ALS patients and advocates, who said it crossed a line. Most said it was offensive.
For myself personally, I didn’t think the line was especially funny, but neither was I offended. On the other hand, the ALS person who mentioned it to me said he laughed.
Good for him to be able to see the humor.
He then went on to relate a story about leaving a restaurant one night and feeling an irritation in the back of his throat. Not wanting to fall or suffer some other mishap as he was plodding along with his walker, he did his best to suppress the cough with no luck.
In the end, he was forced to involuntarily cough, ultimately sending a tiny morsel of bell pepper hurtling out of his nose and striking an unsuspecting insect that was crawling across the pavement.
Being a lover of puns myself, the ALS victim made the clever retort that he had suddenly become “Nostril-Damn-Us, pest control superhero.”
To me at least, that’s funny.
Chaplin, Burnett and Berle
Charlie Chaplin once observed that
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.”
Carol Burnett expresses it another way, often saying that
“Comedy is tragedy — plus time.”
And Milton Berle was quoted as saying that
“Laughter is an instant vacation.”
Later the ALS patient told a story of his wife returning home from work to find him on his back, like an upside-down, helpless turtle, a position which he had been in for nine hours. His analysis to her was simply,
“Your absence made the tile grow harder.”
Having been in similar circumstances myself, though not for that long, I have to admire my colleague’s ability to see the humor. Certainly, it wasn’t pleasant for him nor was it something to be made fun of, but the ability to later observe the lighter side of the situation is to be admired.
My colleague’s difficulties are different than my own in that he has gradually lost his ability to speak clearly. Thus when he asked “May I have some vitamin C” it was heard as “My handsome vending machine.”
On another occasion, while trying to say “But my leg is cramping off and on” it morphed into “Bob Marley is crapping onions.”
In summation, he said,
“I believe if I were to sing the national anthem of the United States at a gathering of United Nations members, in confusion, people from every country would rise to their feet.”
Mark Twain wrote,
“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”
Twisting the phrase “laugh until it hurts,” perhaps it’s better to say “It hurts until you laugh.”
ALS is a serious business, but it could be worse. But on a happy face and, why not, “die laughing”?
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up