There is a man in a sport jacket and tie who sits on the bench outside my grocery store each afternoon holding a well worn brown paper bag and a 12-inch stack of index cards. He politely asks each customer if they would like to hear a joke. I am sad to admit that when I first moved to my new neighborhood a couple of years ago, I would rush past him in my harried manner to get the onerous task of shopping over with as quickly as possible. Over time, this kind soul has worn me down. He smiles whether I stop or not; he requires nothing of me, but trusts in the manner of one who believes in the good of the human spirit. A while back, I started stopping. He reads me a joke, I smile, sometimes laugh and for ten seconds we share a human connection.
As a breast cancer survivor, people often come to me for advice for a friend or family member coping with this dread disease; my response is always the same: they can take away your hair, various body parts and your sense of control, but they can never take away your sense of humor, unless you let them.
A sense of humor saves us – with illness, with our children, and certainly with the snarly and cynical. I think laughter changes chemistry just like those endorphins from exercise. And, you can’t be afraid or angry and be thinking of something funny at the same time. Our sense of humor keeps us human; it costs nothing, is something everyone is born with, and brings joy to ourselves and to others. So, like those random acts of kindness we read about, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the smell after a cleansing rain, the intricacy of a snowflake or autumn maple leaf, join me in finding joy in the simple, the free, and the unexpected. Maybe today I’ll give myself a gift and ask for a second joke…
2011 Pennsylvania Conference for Women speaker Joan Luise Hill is co-author of The Miracle Chase: Three Women, Three Miracles and a Ten Year Journey of Discovery and Friendship.