I hadn’t seen my friend Rubie for several years so when she sent me an invitation to her 90th birthday party, I put the date on my calendar. Daughter Susan and I drove to the huge retirement complex looking for Building F, which didn’t follow Building E. A new alphabet? But we found the place.
Rubie looked great. We visited a bit. “I told her your story the other day at a function here,” she said.
“The one about the talking frog.”
Any talking-frog story belongs to everyone. I recalled telling the story at some gathering about the old man walking in the garden when all at once he heard a noise on the path beside him. It was a frog trying to get his attention.
“Pick me up and kiss me on the lips and I will turn into a beautiful lady,” it croaked.
The old man picked up the frog and stuffed it into his pocket. The frog continued to croak. “Didn’t I say if you kissed me on the lips I would turn into a beautiful young woman?”
The old man kept sauntering through the garden. “At this time in life I’d rather have a talking frog.”
I remember that whenever I told this story, it elicited a laugh from my “old” audience. They understand it. Younger people don’t.
People my age recognize that at times there is a greater need for a good laugh than for a romp in bed. Poet Gerhard Manley Hopkins writes about giving “comfort root-room.” I think it is important during tough times to also give humor more root-room.
Humor helps us accept the process of growing older – especially when the losses slowly or speedily outstrip the gains. Much of life involves pain. Life isn’t fair. Never has been.
My daughter Christine, who died at age 46, lived with me for five of her last eight years. I was caretaker and ombudsperson. Giving hope room to grow was like trying to grow an oak tree in a flower pot. “I have death perched on my shoulder,” she told me.
Sometimes we had an exercise at the end of the day to discuss what during that day had been life-giving and what had been life-draining or life-defeating. The life-defeating moments were easy to identify. The life-giving moments a little harder to isolate.
Life-giving: She had kept her food down, someone had phoned, a letter from a friend showed up in the mail, the words of a poem or Scripture burst with new meaning. Sometimes when we could think of nothing that had lifted our spirits and everything seem life-defeating, we would hug each other and cry together. That, too, was life-giving.
Other times I would rent a comedy video to force us to laugh – to get our minds off the challenges before us. For just a little while we could forget what lay ahead. You can’t be angry or depressed or even anxious when you are laughing.
I don’t like anything with a laughter sound track. I want to decide if something moves me to full-bellied laughter. I don’t like what many TV shows think is funny. It’s not my brand of humor. What I laugh at now I wouldn’t have a generation ago.
Life needs more talking frogs and fewer scenes of sexual encounters, nudity, foul language, violence – and trivia. We have a surfeit of sports and political analysis. Little of that gives hope or comfort root-room to grow.
And so, I tell another story, which only my generation fully understands. It’s about a 60ish widow who showed up at events with a new “boyfriend.” He was always poorly dressed, not clean shaven, and his personal-hygiene habits left a lot to be desired.
Her friends were flabbergasted that this gorgeous woman was being seen as an obvious loser. Was he rich, perhaps an eccentric, especially romantic or brilliant and intellectually gifted?
“No,” she said.
“Why then are you going with this obvious loser?”
“He drives at night.”
Rubie, tell that one to your group next time.