Wise Ones on Humour

One of the many church groups that meets from month to month is called The Wise Ones and it is for people who retired.  The group is facilitated by a capable group of women and men as it brings together people from a diverse number of nationalities and backgrounds for some light discussion, refreshments, and usually homemade cakes.

I enjoy coming to the group as an ‘honorary’ member since it is a while until I reach the age of retirement.  (But one can never be so certain nowadays as I recently met a fellow at a wedding reception who told me that he retired at the ripe old age of 38 after inventing some gizmo that computer companies are still interested in using).  I love being with the people who have so many interesting stories to tell.

Most months there is a topic that is discussed where memories can be shared and I am fortunate to bask in a collective wisdom.  Yesterday the theme was humour (which I spell with a ‘u’ because with out u it wouldn’t be funny).  Everyone expresses humour in different styles and forms.  I think the group tried to avoid the generalizations that some nations seem to be more appreciative of humour than others, but it is an interesting social phenomenon to look at how humour is used from place to place, and from person to person.

I have come across people who have found themselves living in Germany who have named an inability to use their sense of humour to their full potential and therefore, they feel diminished as a person.  Their sense of self shrinks.  Not only is there the language hurdle, but humour can be, well, different for cultures and groups than ones own preferred style.  German humour, at least what is on the television shows, tends to be very ‘heady’ and often political, and truthfully, some of what is deemed funny just doesn’t tickle my funny bone.  If you are someone who loves witticism and word play you may find yourself at a loss.  However, during our group discussion the question asked of me, “what is Canadian humour like?” has remained with me, and I am not sure how I could summarize it as it differs from person to person.  I do think that some of the funniest things, be they jokes or stories, are ones that emphasize the shortcomings of one own self.  To laugh at ones self seems to be important…at least for me.  However, I don’t know if that is a particularly Canadian attribute.  Certainly we have political satire and slap-stick comedy which appears on tv, and there were comedy shows which often had dreadful comic routines which we watched because we knew that there would be at least one ‘zinger’ that kept you thirsting for more.

In a former parish there was a young woman whom you would be hard pressed to consider a comic genius, as she seemed to be shy, moderately funny but not outwardly so, and to look at her, one could imagine her being an middle level office manager.  In reality she was a comic writer for a variety of Canadian comedy shows, like ‘Kids in the Hall.’  One would be hard pressed to see her as one of a team of comedians but she was cutting with her razor sharp wit and observations on life.  Be it comic writing, or stand up comedy, her personality would almost change, or morph, once in the limelight.

One of my favourite comedians was Robin Williams, and having met him once while he was hiking with his young family you would never have thought he was funny.  He seemed like anyone else a nice parent out with his children, but whilst on stage, or in front of a camera he became something completely different.  In some early documentary about William’s life the stage persona and the backroom persona were vastly different.  Which makes me recall a quote from Robin Williams that is reflective of a lot of humour and the people that we find ‘funny’, he says, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.”

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Tall Tales

Last week in the midst of some warm and humid weather I decided to ride my bicycle into Freiburg to join one of the monthly church groups – the Wise Ones.  While the group is a fellowship group for those who are retired, they let me join partly because I’m the minister, and partly, I think, because I have some grey hair, and as the Celtic tradition says, a head of grey hair is a sign of wisdom.

As I started out my journey I tried out one of the features of my GPS that will calculate various routes, be it by bike, by foot, or by car.  Having figured that I’d seen a few different routes to the church already, I programmed the GPS to take me on a hilly route.  This is where I think I gained a few more grey hairs, but proved not to be very wise.

After the first 2 kilometres it became evident to me that I was going to get my heart racing.  The suggested road to take turned out to be an over-grown edge of a field that the farm tractor may have seen a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, I persevered in ignorance.

Next came a short, but steep, jaunt through the vineyards.  The grapes are coming into season, the air was warm, the clouds were darkening and I could hear thunder in the distance.  Of all the days to have a thunderstorm!  The idyllic scenery could not conquer the steady pounding in my ears of my own racing heartbeat as I was set to ignore every possible switchback and continued on my course straight up the hill.  I became mildly concerned to find the hair on my arms standing upright with ever-blackening clouds and ever-nearing sounds of thunder.

With about 200 metres until I reached the canopy of the Black Forest the heavens opened and the rain poured.  Receiving shelter from the tall trees only made me feel protected from the violent crashing of the thunderstorm, yet the rain drops fell more heavily as they gathered their forces together off of the tall leafed trees and plunged down.

The dirt path quickly became a small stream and mud splashed up from my wheels to ensure that whatever dry part of my clothes was left would be properly soaked.  Wisdom tells you to bring an extra change of clothes (which I did, thinking I would be too sweaty), wisdom might also tell you to put your clothes in a dry bag (which I didn’t) and still when I arrived at the church I was allowed to participate in the Wise Ones meeting.  The rain actually fell from the trees so hard that it took me a moment to realize that my route had been changed.  The water drops falling in rapid and heavy succession upon my touch screen GPS had canceled my current route and changed it to something altogether more impossible.

As I stood in the rain pretending to find shelter under the trees and hunching my back over my electronic navigation system so that I might find my correct course, or better yet, my actual location it occurred to me that I had not seen anyone on my ride.  Usually I would have encountered dozens of people out for a bike ride, or a hike.  Either everyone knew that there would be a thunderstorm, or I was so far into the woods that there was definitely no restaurant, or Gasthaus nearby – this by German standards is completely lost.  Your mind begins to play tricks on you as you become more chilled from the rain and you feel disoriented.  Had I been somewhere in Canada I would have felt as if I was on a logging road and been concerned that a bear might come out of the woods.  All the German fairytales started to come to mind, but not in the Disney versions, rather the original German versions which are far more gruesome.

Onwards and still upwards! After the momentary lapse in confusion, I mounted my bike and began to plod my way steadily uphill.  I began to use my better judgement for a change and started reading the signs and ignoring my GPS so that I eventually made my way down the other side of the hill towards my destination.  It was only then that finally the heavens opened and the blue sky and bright sun showed up, a little too weakly to actually dry anything off, but it was good for the mood.

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Bike riding is full of adventure, but later I learned from my parents that sometimes the adventure comes to you…even in your own home.  We might be half a world away, but we find ways of communicating our stories and adventures.  Having a running commentary this morning by text message about the large Black Bear that has found its way into the house and made itself very much at home in the kitchen with several hamburger buns, and a jar of peanut butter would certainly surprise anyone, even the family dog.  Eventually the determined bear was scared off, but surely the story will live on and grow into a family memory, a legendary tale.

I think I will stick to my rainy bike ride up the side of the mountain then come face to face with a large Black Bear and her jar of peanut butter.  At the end of the story I think we are all, a little greyer, and I hope, a little wiser.