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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

A funny thing happened. . .

Updated: May 20

It's probably just me. One of our walking routes regularly takes me by three rounded, carefully cropped evergreens. Maybe they started out as shrubs, each trying to out-do the others. Now all three rise above the roofline of the bungalow behind them. I always imagine they are three sisters sharing a private joke where one leans forward, cackling over a witty remark her nearly hidden sister has made. The third stands slightly apart, laughing heartily, too.

They remind me of the 1924 photo of three other sisters, my aunts—Mary, who leans forward almost doubling over from what Florence, (who is nearly hidden), has just said. Bertha stands slightly apart, also laughing at the remark. These three were the eldest. I love this photo because it is exactly how I remember all five of my dad’s older sisters, with their boisterous laughter as they regaled us with stories around the table after holiday dinners at Grandma’s house.

1959 Christmas

The dinner table usually started in the dining room, extended through the open arch to another table stretching the length of the living room. Most of the kids headed upstairs after dinner to play monopoly and other board games. But I never wanted to miss the entertainment after the extra tables were taken down and the good china was washed and stored away. All the adults and several of us kids would squeeze together in the dining room.

circa 1942 Christmas

It never took much to get the sisters started. Funny things just seemed to happen in their lives. They teased each other and their spouses and laughed at themselves, as well. The ridiculous predicaments they’d gotten into and out of let me know that such things are bound to happen and that almost any dilemma has a solution. I especially loved the stories of when they’d outfoxed a system that had a bias against women. I also liked that these strong, intelligent women could admit mistakes and learn from them. Their humorous attitude helped me digest the life lessons embedded in their stories.

Greek physician Galen introduced the idea that physical health required a balance of the humours, or bodily fluids. The word “humour” has always been associated with moisture and fluidity. Hungarian writer László Feleki observes: “Humor as a fluid probably served to dilute the hard facts of life making it possible to swallow and digest them.”

The first time I’d considered the healing power of laughter was back in ’79 when Norman Cousins wrote Anatomy of an Illness. His self-prescribed dose of belly laughs gave him two pain-free hours at a time from a degenerative disease he suffered. Today, neuroscience has much to say about fluidity. Through a good belly laugh desirable chemicals in the brain begin to flow. (eg. dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins)

Victor Frankl writes of surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.”

He says a sense humor is an acquired skill, which one develops by consciously practicing finding something amusing about life each day. Developing the ability “to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living.” Even in Auschwitz where suffering was omnipresent.

Frankl adds, Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. . . .”

I like that thought. Choosing my attitude toward any situation is a freedom I cherish. It also carries a weight of responsibility. I can hardly blame others for causing me to have the attitude I've chosen.

I tend to agree that seeing things in a humorous light is an acquired skill. Everything I know about the fluidity of laughter I've learned from others. I'm still learning how to find light-heartedness and comedy amongst the sorrows. My aunts passed on to me the importance of watching for the funny things that happen all around us. I think the sisters always knew that laughter is the best digestive.

~K L Kurtz

Special gratitude to my spouse, Paul, who brings levity and joy into my life each day.

Holiday dinner photos taken by Willis Kurtz

Cacti photos taken in 2017, Cave Creek, Arizona

Kurtz Sibs: 1) Bertha, Mary, Florence 2) Martha, Lottie 3) C.C. and Willis (my dad)


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