Graduation addresses, as a general rule, are terrible, but contrary to tradition, the speakers at both my high school and college graduations were truly wonderful. A departing teaching spoke at my high school graduation, and her take home message for us was this: humor is vitally important. Her speech was thankfully void of “I hope you dance” or “Oh the places you’ll go” clichés. Instead she made us laugh; regaling us with stories, and reminding us that sometimes laughter is the best response to trying times.
My college graduation speaker fully bypassed the platitudes asking us, and our assembled loved ones, “Why ‘be yourself‘ if you can be someone better?” In essence, his was an invitation to hop off our high horse, not take ourselves too seriously, and to learn to develop at least a shred of humility. This was an important message for a class graduating from college in 2009; a message that my classmates and I, who were part of the first wave of the “generation of special,” certainly needed to hear before leaving the ivory tower.
I’ve had times in my life where humor and laughter were truly impossible to access. At age 14 when I was circling my own personal void for the first significant time, I remember thinking, “I will never laugh again.” It was a terrifying thought, that thankfully did not prove true, but the laugh-less condition did last for a while. And when I’ve returned to similar states in more recent years, it is always the loss of laughter that is the canary in the coal mine for the void of deep sadness to come. And when I climb up out of that void, it is the miraculous return of laughter that feels like the entryway back into the land of the living.
There are many things in life that warrant deep sadness. Sadness that deserve tears, and heartache, and even wailing. Grief is important and cannot be bypassed. But there is something particularly healing about arriving at a place where you can laugh at your own dark and broken parts—not with maliciousness, but with genuine mirth.
Alain de Botton suggests, in his novel The Course of Love that we should skip over the small talk, when meeting a potential partner, and get right to the heart of the matter by asking, “How are you crazy?” And I believe if you are able to truly look at your own life, and honestly answer this question—of how you are crazy—then you will have endless fodder for laughter for all of your days.
My favorite people to spend time with are the ones who are an interplay of serious and playful. Those people who do not shy away from their soul crushing grief and who also revel in, and call upon, laughter as a tool not just to make the good days better, but also to make the dark days bearable. Laughter can’t always penetrate the darkness, nor should it, but when it does it is an incredible gift.