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
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
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
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
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
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.