Laughter in the time of the coronavirus
There is a beautiful book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called Love in the Time of Cholera. That title has been present in my mind since seclusion was recommended. I don’t remember all the details of that great book except for the ending. But this novel brings to mind how in times of hardship, human beings who care for each other find ways to connect. To my surprise one of those ways has been through jokes, many of them incredibly creative and just wonderful.
I am in touch with people from around the world, family in Cuba and Puerto Rico, a daughter in South Korea and another one in Germany, friends from Colombia and Venezuela, and others from N.Y. and many other parts of the U.S. One by one the jokes trickle in; a niece from Puerto Rico sends daily humorous videos and jokes that I am sure she is forwarding from her many relatives in Orlando. I, of course, forward the best ones to South Korea and Germany. In turn I get from Germany a video that I had already seen about a cat running scared when somebody sneezes.
I get daily jokes from different parts of the world; I get videos in languages that I do not understand. There are literary quotes from famous authors used sarcastically to incite laughter during this epidemic. There are incredible videos from Puerto Rico filled with salsa music and reminding us to stay inside; cartoons that express how one feels being isolated.
Of course, many friends forward thoughtful messages or reminders, websites with valuable information, even data analysis. But what I appreciate the most is the humor.
This humor is now, through the magic of technology, spread throughout the world. In many ways, it is an exponential spread just like the virus because each one of us shares every joke with several other people who in turn do the same with others. The bottom line is that in spite of these very challenging times, there are many of us laughing at the creativity and the ability of human beings to find the humor in hardship.
Laughter is indeed a paradox of life that alleviates our stress during times of challenge. As a young girl in Cuba under the Batista regime’s dictatorship, I witnessed how humor was used to make fun of a government that was persecuting people. There was a weekly magazine called Zig Zag. It would come out every Thursday and we anxiously awaited the day of publication to see how through caricature they would evade the government censure and make fun of what was a terrible moment. We would look at the caricatures carefully to decipher the secret messages included. It always led to laughter and admiration for the masterful way those drawing were made.
One of the cartoonists, Antonio Prohias, later lived in the USA and became well known drawing a cartoon called “Spy vs. Spy.” I learned from Zig Zag about the power of laughter in the midst of fear and terror. I learned the creativity it takes to forge a joke under such difficult circumstances. I learned how laughter made me feel and how I welcome the relieved from the daily upheaval we were facing.
As an extrovert, being in isolation can be harder, but there is always the phone. When I call friends and relatives also in isolation, I have my repertoire of new jokes ready. Laughing together is a wonderful way of connecting.
This epidemic of jokes is a welcome reprieve. This is one curve that should not be flattened. Like the old lovers in the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, who chose to eternally navigate a river in a quarantine boat to be together, laughter at this time should also be a long-term endeavor because it makes us stronger and more appreciative of each other.
Estela Lopez is the retired Provost of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.
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