It’s not often you’ll read a philosophical endorsement of laughter but Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin writes persuasively about how laughter gives us access to truths about the world that we can’t know through reason.
I learned this when my Daddy was terminally ill and my sisters and I nursed him at home in his bedroom, calming him if he became agitated or distressed because of Alzheimers. There we’d listen to NWCR – North West Community Radio, broadcast from a shop in neighbouring Buncrana. It was the early days of local radio and we loved it not least for its sometimes rough and ready nature.
One day, the presenter of the afternoon show got very animated about a record request for local man Mickey who’d reached the amazing age of one hundred and eleven. ‘What an achievement’ he enthused, and he repeated his age – one hundred and eleven – several times.
After playing the record requested the presenter came back on air, his voice more subdued – ‘Ah, Mickey’s wife’s been on to us to clear something up – Mickey isn’t 111 – he’s ill.’
Well, how we laughed – sheer joy filling the room of a very sick man. And he laughed too.
That presenter may well have gone home dejected about his on-air gaffe – his embarrassing mistake. He wasn’t to know the deeper story – the gift he was to three sisters and the gratitude they hold him in to this day.
In that small bedroom in Derry a truth greater than reason was affirmed.