“So how do you tell a story without telling the story?” I ask as I sit down to write.
A friend wrote today of family humor and an incident at a funeral that evoked guffaws. It got me to thinking about my own sense of humor that is warped. Gallows humor it is called. Mirth in the face of a tragic and hopeless situation.
It is always inappropriate, but there it is. I once remember a scene in a movie where a man goes into the confessional booth to confess his sin, then shoots the priest so there were no witnesses to his confession. I guffawed in the darkened theater over the irony of the scene and got a passel of disbelieving white eyeballs staring at me. That only made it worse, and my date at that time finally had to give me a hard elbow in the ribs. She never went to a movie with me again.
I have been hard on modern day comics and their substitution of snark for humor. In defense of my gallows humor, I do think snark generally springs from an unentitled sense of superiority, and shares that sense with their audience.
One of my favorite cites is:
Robert-François Damiens, a French man who attempted to assassinate king Louis XV, was sentenced on March 26, 1757 to be executed in a gruesome and painstakingly detailed manner. He would first be led to the gallows, holding a torch with 2 lbs. of burning wax. Pliers would then be used to tear his skin at the breast, arms and legs. Then his right arm, which held the knife he had used for his crime, would be burned with sulfur. The aforementioned areas with ripped skin would then be poured upon with molten lead, boiling oil, burning pitch, wax, and sulfur. His body would then be dismembered by four horses, the members and trunk consumed in fire, and the ashes would be spread in the wind. After hearing the sentence, Damiens is reported to have replied: “Well, it’s going to be a tough day.”
I have used that phrase often when faced with an impossible set of circumstances and must ride it out to the end.
So with those thoughts, Shabbat morning unfolds. I feel like I am on a runaway train with my government, and there is no way to get off. There is noting I can do about it but watch the horror unfold. It cant be good.
And yeah. It is going to be a tough day.