There’s this YouTube video that went viral this week. It’s an adorable 1-year-old boy hysterically laughing at his dad blowing the seeds of a windmill dandelion. It’s pure joy—babies laughing always are.
As we grow, the things that make us laugh (hopefully) evolve—I can’t tell you the last time I laughed at a dandelion. But we can learn a lot from little ones about laughter.
Happiness studies report that children laugh 400 times a day; adults only 17 times. I say we adults push for 20.
Being able to laugh, even amidst the crazy backdrop of life and the overwhelming turmoil in the world, makes for a happier life, no matter what your age.
We Jews share a robust collective funny bone. With all the tsuris we’ve been through as a people, we figure better to laugh than cry.
The act of “cheering someone up” is considered a mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. Indeed, the famed Jewish mystical rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov, once said, “Whoever lives in joy does the work of the Creator.”
God knows life isn’t easy. Our personal lives are a constant “dramedy”—a big stew of joy tinged with heavy doses of sadness. As the late great Jewish comedian Gilda Radner wisely used to say, “It’s always something.”
And on a global level, there’s so much pain. This week alone, as I write this, our hearts break as we watch the death toll climb above 5,000 souls in Nepal, and closer to home, tempers and frustration have exploded into mayhem and violence in Baltimore.
Sometimes it’s just too much.
So when I need a break from it all, I turn to funny people. People like David Letterman who, on May 20, takes his last bow as the longest running TV talk show host in history—a staggering 32 years.
This spring, I’ve been one of millions delighting in a parade of beloved guests, like Billy Crystal and Michael J. Fox, making their way to Dave’s desk for one last interview, and musicians like Tracy Chapman and Dave’s fellow Hoosier state native John Mellencamp performing one last classic song in Letterman’s honor.
I’ve been watching Letterman since I was only a few years older than that dandelion-laughing baby. (My parents subscribed to the philosophy that you’re never too young for dry, and maybe even off-color, wit.)
Over the years, audiences like my family have watched Letterman evolve and soften his acerbic humor; a heart attack and the birth of a son later in life will do that to a guy.
But I remember one other moment that changed Dave—and it changed me too.
On Sept. 19, 2001, Letterman came back on the air for his first show post 9/11. Even amidst our collective grief and as Ground Zero still smoldered, we listened to Letterman’s first monologue back. In it, he spoke about courage—the courage of the New York mayor and of all of its citizens, and he championed the first responders who sacrificed their lives to save as many lives as possible, who protect us all.
When the planes hit the towers, like so many other human beings on this planet, I truly thought the world might end.
But something shifted in me after Letterman spoke: He made me believe that somehow we would carry on. Not in the same way as we did on Sept. 10, but in a new way, that we’d have to figure out together.
Most of all, he made me feel like it was okay to laugh again. In fact, we needed to laugh again. And we did.
So thank you, Dave, for everything.
Here we are, almost 14 years later, and the world keeps spinning. We face new sadness, fears, and uncertainty that we never could have imagined. And I wish I knew how to fix it, but I don’t.
But the one thing I do know
is it’s okay to keep laughing.