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  • Writer's pictureElisse Gabriel

Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

"As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul." —Yiddish Proverb

My father, who turned 80 in February, remains among the most industrious people I know. He’s as busy in retirement as he was when he was working six days a week running his office supply business. Before the coronavirus forced him to shelter in place with my mother, his companion of nearly 60 years, he kept busy gardening, baking, cooking, taking care of the outdoor cats and indoor dogs, and pining for late spring, when he could finally go fishing again on Lake Erie.

When he first self-quarantined, Dad remained as busy as ever. “Since most everything is closed, I have to find something to do,” he wrote. “It rained all night, so yard work is out. I checked on my plants in the basement, cleaned the deck, emptied water from the tarp covering the patio furniture, now what? It’s only eleven o’clock.” He decided to bake homemade hamburger buns and soft pretzels. Then he discovered a head of cabbage in the fridge, so he made stuffed cabbage, too. “It is now almost seven o’clock and I just sat down for the first time since seven this morning,” Dad wrote. That was on March 19.

Fast forward to 11 days later. Dad emailed us a list about what he’d done that day:

  1. Check on plants.

  2. Feed fish.

  3. Sleep.

  4. Eat dinner (chili from freezer).

  5. Sleep.

This is coming from a person who has a perennial case of the shpilkes, a Yiddish word that means not being able to sit still (aka, “ants in the pants”). So, the thought of my father sleeping, then sleeping some more is rather concerning, though infinitely better than spending the day glued to the news.

I emailed Dad, asking him what else he could do. He responded, “Nothing. Don’t want to bake. We have bread in the freezer, can’t sit still long enough to watch TV, don’t like puzzles, and don’t have to cook dinner. Too cold and rainy to work outside. Did all the things I could do in the house.” (I discovered later he'd also worked on repairing a broken pipe under his deck. Minor details.)

I jokingly suggested he revisit the ancient exercise machine that’s now used as a makeshift clothes hanger. Dad wrote, “Can’t even do that. The therapist told me not to use it for a while because of a pulled muscle from lifting Romy." (Romy is a Newfoundland who weighs well over 200 pounds.)

So I finally emailed the question, “So how do you not go bonkers?”

He wrote back, “Can’t help it. I’m going bonker.”

The word "bonker" hit me funny. I started laughing uncontrollably.

Maybe I’ve been holed up too long or am just easily amused (probably both). Either way, this happy accident released something in me—the tension and stress and worry and everything else I’ve been holding inside these past weeks. Thanks to Dad, I got a hearty dose of spontaneous laughter, and felt remarkably better afterwards.

The takeaway from all this? Even though so many aspects of our lives are closed off right now, it's essential to stay open to humor and welcome it gladly. It’ll help make everything that’s happening around you feel a bit more bearable. Plus, it'll keep you from going completely bonker, if only for another day.

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