Laughter & the Original Virgin

I try to find a reason to laugh each day. Faith Hill

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself. Ethel Barrymore

I laugh a lot at myself these days. I laugh a lot in general: I don’t have to find a reason. It just comes.

That wasn’t always the case.

When I was younger and in the grip of depression and social anxiety, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I do now, and I almost never laughed at myself.

It was too threatening to acknowledge that I’d done or said something wrong or stupid or embarrassing. This was especially true when I was in high school and college.

One day in my college freshman English class we got on the subject of folk songs and on how to determine a particular folk song’s “original version.” Having discovered folk music in high school, I considered myself an expert in this area. I raised my hand to make the point that, by the very nature of folk music constantly morphing and evolving, it was virtually impossible to determine a folk song’s “original” version.

Only my tongue slipped, and it came out “original virgin.”

Now, this was 1963, and we were a little more prudish and private then about language. At the word “virgin,” my fellow students erupted in peals of laughter. My professor was laughing so hard his face turned deep red, and he had to lower his head to his desk until his laughter subsided.

Meanwhile, I sat through all this mortified. Not only had my very important point about the nature of folk music been lost through my slip of the tongue, but also I had said the word “virgin” in public in front of other people who were essentially strangers.

I sat staring straight ahead, stony-faced, dying of shame, pretending I was not hearing all the laughter around me.

That was the way I dealt with making embarrassing mistakes in public back then. Don’t acknowledge it in any way. Hope nobody notices. If somebody does notice, still don’t acknowledge it.

Twenty-two years ago I began taking antidepressants, and my world changed. I found my social confidence. I found my laughter. I especially found how delightful it is to laugh at myself.

If that “original virgin” slip happened today, I probably would be the first one to start laughing. Like my professor then, I might laugh and laugh until my face turned deep red and I had to lower my head to my desk until my laughter subsided.

Joy and Peace, and Always Keep Laughing,

As Erma Bombeck says: If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it. 

Marjorie Beck

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