Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nothing to Laugh About

"Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter."

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Contrary to popular trends, when I was in my final year of school I dreaded the very last class on a Friday. It was History, and for more than an hour I sat at my desk desperately wishing away the minutes. I did and still do love history, for all its subjective quality and its multiple versions. The problem was that the final year of school was a tense one and when I suffer tension, I find everything funny, especially things that are not. Coupled with that difficulty was the teacher I had: he made us all read out loud from our books and the least smirk, loss of attention or spark of giddiness and he was like a cannister of gasoline. Having with my own eyes seen him pick people up by the collar and throw their desks against the wall it was so very important that one not laugh while reading from the book in that class. He chose us randomly so there were times when I was saved by keeping my head down and at the back of the room. I was forever terrified of not being able to hold it in. Sometimes, though, I could not, and right at the end as I raced toward the final line, my breathless voice would break into a series of squeaks. He never seemed to notice and I did survive.
And then one Friday evening it fell apart in a blizzard of bad luck and poor timing. Minutes after class began he started to choose us in order of where we were sitting. I knew I could not escape this. The teacher was in a particularly ominous and edgy mood. He began with the fellow sitting three desks away and moving along in my direction. I was panicking, I was perspiring and I badly wanted to weep because I was afraid so much of laughing.
It came to my turn and I thought that something would happen: a fire drill, a change of heart, anything to save me from my impending doom. The girl next to me tore through her last line and I thought her cruel and heartless for not reading at a snail's pace. Finally she stopped and it was my turn. My heart was so violently loud I was certain that they could all hear it. Nevertheless the only way to get through something is to begin it, so I did.
I actually thought that I managed considerably well. I was smooth, and reading at a decent speed. Not a soul knew how scared I was. With one section to go I felt that I might make it after all and if I could get through this, then the curse might be broken.
He interrupted me for a moment to make a comment on the text. I despised that because I was in fine fettle and anxious to be finished. It gave me a moment to make a fateful mistake and to read ahead by myself. I wanted to know what was coming but I ought to have been wiser.
The passage was about the death of Stalin- the actual death and not the aftermath- and it read this way:

"...the best medical brains were summoned to his bedside...attended to Stalin..."

I had a ghastly vision just then.
I saw Stalin on his deathbed, and a team of brains- vibrant, living, pink and grey brains- dressed in stark white doctor's coats and looking as grim as one can be without a mouth or eyes, marching in a serious troop to the side of Stalin and determining that he could not be saved.
The teacher ceased talking and I understood with horror that it was my cue to continue. I took a deep breath and began to speak the words but when I reached that sentence my resolve collapsed and I had no more breath to continue the farce. It became quite clear that I was laughing hysterically and that I could not go on.
He raised his head from the book sharply and glanced at me.
"Go on," he said in a tone that I could scarcely defend myself against.
I was in no state to read any more and I shook my head. I could bear having my desk hoisted out the window with me seated at it: now that the pressure had been relieved I could envision nothing worse happening.
He sighed, deflated. I must have been under a special charm that afternoon: all he said was, "look at that. The poor man's dead and she's laughing!"
He shook his head with a faint smile and finished the piece on his own.
I wonder if he understood, in reading, what I had been humoured by; I would like to have told him but was so relieved by the lack of any punishment that I was ecstatic and carefree. Sadly, he passed away last year at a relatively young age. My laughing at the text of Stalin's death is my most distinctive memory of his classes.
I spent too much time fretting about that class.
I appreciate the the old adage that says, "never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you." In the meantime we ought to cherish everything else that happens along the way.


Bob G said...

Lovely daily writing Elementary. I particularly enjoy your image "a blizzard of bad luck and timing" - also that you begin each post with a quote - for those of us readers who like a little "thinking with the linking" :) - Keep up your quest and remember to laugh :)

Thank you for stopping by One Reader at a Time

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

I appreciate your comments! Thank you for reading. I put the quotes before each post because they inspire me enormously.
Yes, I'll be sure to laugh at...nothing, from time to time.


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