Comedies—Screwball & Divine
Chronic pain can be treated by opiates, but laughter is often the best medicine. During a period of chronic pain (the result of a body on the downhill side of 50), I was depressed, which only made the pain worse. I dislike painkillers, because our family makes pharmaceuticals, and I have an inkling of how many people are killed by drug interactions and reactions. My wife decided to try drastic methods on my mopes: a Katharine Hepburn film festival. It helped a great deal; the brain cannot laugh and feel pain at the same time.
Goethe observes, “Sometimes we can watch a comedy for a stretch without laughing at the comic antics, but in a tragedy we immediately laugh uproariously at something inappropriate; it is the same in the real world, where some ludicrous aspect of a terrible misfortune may make us burst out laughing.” He has in mind the gravedigger in Hamlet, or the porter in Macbeth.
On the Day of Endless Tears, September 11, 2001, several hundred million people were plunged into horror and despair at what was coming upon the world. About two weeks later, as I obsessed over the unending newspaper accounts of the devastation, I came across a news item that in Scotland someone had been charged with a hate crime: He had thrown a haggis through a neighbor’s window. I laughed, and realized it was the first time I had laughed since September 11.
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Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in Old English and Old Icelandic from the University of Virginia and is a senior editor of Touchstone. His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine's Press, 2020). He and his wife Mary (author of the Touchstone column "A Thousand Words") are the parents of six children. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
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