What is the spring from whence our sorrows flow? A foreigner hurts from trying to fit in and pleasing others. A historian grieves over the specter of history with numbers on its wrist. An artist suffers for the flowers which never bloom in winter. A poet agonizes over the verses which need to be put out of misery by a fired match. A Marxist laments the capitalistic economic infrastructure. A clown dirges for his scorched heart. Kafka wails for seeing too much love and hope on Earth, but none for him. And on. And on. And on.
But I think that we suffer because we take too seriously what Gods clearly made for their own entertainment: human lives. My dearest friend, we live our lives as if they are real (so said the master himself—Leonard Cohen). We somberly walk in our nightmares and allow gloomy billows to bedaub the firmament of our very own existence. No more dazzling stars shine upon us. Darkness, darkness, and beyond that: darkness. My dearest friend, we have forgotten to laugh.
I come from Albania, a country that lived in darkest pits of hell (that is, communism). For nearly 50 years, hope, joy, love, freedom, beauty and humanity were turned into deceits, calumnies, sufferings, indignities, sacrifices and lamentations. Upon such miseries, my dearest friend, “the gods themselves throw incense.”
Yet, people survived. It was not food that kept them alive, for it scarcely existed. Neither was it hope, for they knew better than to believe in illusions. It was humor that kept them from crossing the Acheron. Indeed, it was a crooked, witty, sarcastic, pessimistic, dark and piercing sense of humor.
It kept them going when darkness and and frost carpeted the ground upon which people base their lives: love. It came a point where they could not accept any more woe. Their choices were to either break or live. My people chose life. Humor became the engine of survival. That was enough to ignite the fire. Through humor, they rebuilt their hearth of happiness amongst the ruins of despair. These crazy and stubborn people decided to treat life as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” If only pain came from taking life too seriously, then they had to treat it as big joke.
When their siblings in arms faced depression, they roasted each other to show love and to lighten their hearts up. After all, that’s what people you love do: when you are on the edge, they give you a warm and firm pat on the back. When in front of food problems, they would giggle about it. After all, the pile full of bread loaves was so high that it once reached the heavens.
But, one might say, in communist Albania, God did not exist. Don’t worry pal o’mine, neither did bread. When freedom died, they joked about it. When death smiled at them, they laughed back at it. For if you didn’t laugh at death, it meant you were already dead. You see, my very merry friend, humor was an expression of survival. It became their way of saying, “we are stronger than you, Hades. Do your worst. We are ready. We will triumph.”
For some time now, it has occurred to me that the closer to the abyss a people have been, the more they emphasize humor—be that sarcastic, self-deprecating, observational, and all that—and the less they take themselves and life seriously. I fear though, that too much reverence and seriousness a society places upon its shoulders, the more the people resemble Don Quixote.
The Party took everything away from Albanians, but it failed to incarcerate humor. The Don Quixotes, my cheerful friend, tried to ban humor—or some kinds of it, because you could always make fun of the Capitalist West. It should not have been that difficult, because if you come out with a hammer everything will look like a nail. Yet, the apparatchiks failed.
However, the fear of them succeeding existed. I recall my grandmother saying that it was comic seeing the Party trying to ban humor. But it was also tragic the mere thought of wanting to do so. They feared that once Don Quixote attacked a particular kind of humor, then Sancho and Dulcinea would target other kinds. Soon there would be no laughter. A life in havoc and despair teaches people that without humor there is no life. Just dead souls.