Bowl of Cherries

We’ve heard it said and, at times, we’ve all experienced: “life isn’t easy”. I was raised by two very young parents who were in over their heads. They made it work and worked themselves to the bone to give us a wonderful childhood. Their life wasn’t easy, but their spirit never reflected that. They were light, jovial, and fun. As little kids, they never allowed us to whine or complain; when we did, they would tease us with a song they made up which only made us angry cry. We learned quickly that we didn’t like complaining.

As we age, there are a couple options to how our mind will ripen into geriatric maturity. The first reminds me of a loaf of bread, because it gets stale and hard as it eventually petrifies. There are many ways to achieve these ends, like being ungrateful, angry, closed minded, hateful, or unforgiving. The second way the mind can age is to soften over time, like an old blanket. To achieve this softhearted outlook on life, one must practice loving, laughing, appreciation and acceptance. I want my child to know how valuable it is to have an open mind and forgiving, happy heart.

The characteristic ways in which we react to the world slowly form our life experience. Life isn’t easy, but how we respond to the events in our life is how we exercise our personal power. Cause and effect, like a game of ping-pong, shoots us shots that we return. The effort and skill with which we return the shot is what sets the stage for the next incoming volley. It’s vital to realize when our tactics are no longer serving us, because we can change our form as we go.

Courting a Jester

The closest I came to being married was a long-term, unofficial engagement to an Iranian man. He was older than me, an intelligent engineer, and gifted historian for his Persian heritage. We loved and respected each other, but ultimately I was often too serious and fiery for him. He would say he was going to change me. That would only cause me to become more fiery. He was serious about work and education, otherwise he was never serious, always smiling, enjoying, joking. At that time, it was hard for me to understand how he and all the other Iranians I’d met had this joie de vivre.

What was particularly disconcerting to me, and felt stifling to him, was how often his jovial nature placed him in precarious situations in his new environment. Scammers don’t just target the elderly, many try to also exploit foreigners’ lack of experience; others simply take advantage of their kindness. Always, he would relay these stories to me while laughing heartily. I could barely take hearing him joke about being in harm’s way and I would react with a: “You did what?!”. He was fearless though and this was not the reaction he was hoping I would give. Why couldn’t I laugh, he wondered, as he vowed to change me.

Midnight Jokes and Dark Humor

I always thought I had a wonderful sense of humor. Now I know I have a wonderful sense of humor in relation to my American culture. I thoroughly enjoy laughing. He was forever telling me jokes, both new “American” jokes he’d read online or, more often, ones he’d translate from Farsi into English. I would laugh once, then he would explain it to me in its cultural context and we would laugh again. He would wake up laughing about a joke he’d remembered.

The difference between us was that I joked judiciously; tragedy, danger, injustice, and hardships were off-limits. This is exactly because tragedy hasn’t constantly befallen my life and country. For those whose lives have seen an over-abundance of devastation, humor can be a positive, effective coping skill. It certainly takes abundant grace, strength, and focus to return what life is serving you in such a constructive way. I had come to learn, this was the Iranian way.

​I enjoy listening to NPR while driving. One Saturday, about two years ago, I heard an amazing Iranian-American comedian on the “Ted Radio Hour”. At the beginning of the interview, Negin Farsad explains how she was born into a comedic family and how most Iranians coped with the wars and nightly bombings through their jovial nature. Her enthralling interview, while humorously entertaining, was so poignant for me. It verified and explained everything I’d come to know about charismatic Iranians. (Read the interview below)

While we were together, I’d listened to him talk for hundreds of hours about his life, country, and culture. I learned all about his idyllic childhood, about the changes that came with the Islamic revolution, and about the Iran-Iraq war. I listened in horror as he recounted how his family’s land and business were bombed to ruins on two separate occasions, years apart (with enough time in between to rebuild). He even joked about the irony of that situation. He served in the war, fighting on the front lines, alongside American soldiers. He always recalled these times nostalgically, never with a complaint. His tone was that of a person who experiences life as an entertaining adventure, a lark. Always his eyes sparkled as he told his stories with a smile; he enjoyed the stories so much he would shake his head in laughter and slap his own knee.

He would never allow the external world to make him hard and mean. Instead, laughter was the marinade that softened even the toughest parts of life. This is what he wanted for me, how he wanted to change me. I understand that now. I understand why he would laugh at my incredulousness over the injustices of the world, my righteousness, my anger. It would never suit me, never solve anything. I would become bitter over the things I couldn’t affect, stale over things I couldn’t change. To be successful, I’d need to alter my tactics, soften my stance.

Finding a Punchline

I had this epiphany before, in regards to my choosing to become a teacher (blog 2). This was just the next level, the new application for the knowledge that anger solves nothing, changes nothing. Humor is a viable strategy for winning in life. Life is not easy, but when we allow ourselves to laugh easily, give ourselves permission to not be so serious, the tragedies of life become more bearable.

​This was my lesson to learn and how vital it was that I absorbed it before I had a child. I want to give my child the upbringing I had, full of love, laughter, music, dancing, and positivity. I am grateful for witnessing those who exemplified this strength, those who wielded their mighty humor to shield them against adversity. My life, and that of my child, will be richer for their example.