I dreamed last night that we all awoke on this April 1 to a loud voice shouting “April Fool’s!” We found restaurants and stores open, people healthy and happy and the pall of anxiety lifted like the sun burning through a morning fog.
There is nothing to laugh about, no practical joke quality about any of this current health crisis. But we are humans and, bless us, we just can’t help ourselves.
The humor began with the inevitable toilet paper gags, as hoarders took in mysterious stockpiles of a product that was never going to be in short supply nor in greater use (COVID-19 is a respiratory ailment, not a GI one). We saw memes of bunkers built of the tissue rolls, people planting the cardboard center as ‘toilet paper seeds’ and so forth. My favorite was the journal dated sometime in 2050 saying, “This is a momentous day as we finally use the last roll of toilet paper stockpiled by Grandpa during the Coronavirus era.”
There have been memes and jokes about social distancing (am I supposed to be capitalizing the term?). Piglet walks with Pooh and rather than words of folksy wisdom, Pooh merely says, “Back off, Piglet. Remember six feet!” And just recently a dear friend shared a list of Pick Up Lines for social distancing, with deathless gibes like, “Hey Baby, can I ship you a drink?” of “Is that a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket of you just happy to be six feet from me?”
Humor like this may seem callous but it is a natural response in the human psyche. Humor and especially laughter produce endorphins and other biochemical factors which counter the physiologic changes that occur in stress and fear. It is okay to have a rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure for a brief time of action, but we cannot sustain them at for a long time.
As always, the use of humor is all about context and nuance. As Ecclesiastes 3 famously states: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Eccl 3:1)… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing (Eccl 3:4-5).” We are emphatically in the time to refrain from embracing, but we must remember the time to both laugh and dance lest we lose the vitality that makes us human.
[This Post was adapted from a essay originally published on Facebook the day listed above]