A wise old woman sat in a large group of her friends, listening to them lament over their children, their grandchildren, their jobs, their finances.
Finally she broke into a gap in the litany of complaints and told a funny joke
Everyone laughed heartily.
A moment or two later, she told the same joke again. Fewer people laughed and others looked slightly embarrassed.
Five minutes later she told the joke for a third time and no one laughed. Instead, her friends looked at one another, wondering if the woman were losing it.Of course, we can laugh at the same joke more than once or twice. The very existence of endless re-runs of situation comedies on television is based on the premise that we can and will. But in some ways, we choose to be amused. The twist that makes something funny is already known to us, but we can decide not to jump ahead in our consciousness to spoil it. We can know and not-know at the same time, and thus we control our reaction somewhat and get more enjoyment out of an old story.
She smiled at them and said, "You can't laugh at the same joke again and again, can you? Why do you keep crying over the same thing over and over?"
Jokes are fairly straight forward and usually have only one punch line. When reading a work of literature or listening to a piece of music, I can find new things with each new exposure to the story or the music. This complexity is one reason that I return again and again to favorite songs or books. Not all music or literature is worth revisiting very often, and those that are we call classics. I suppose that is one reason that remakes/rehashes/updates of old movies so often limp badly. A true classic need not be remade; it stands the test of time. A remake is usually an attempt to make something better that did not need improvement.
But back to the point:
When I weep over the same old thing day after day, how much of that is due to the complexity of the tragedy continuing to unfold and wound me? How much of it is mere self-indulgence, the result of my choice to stare at only one part of the story?Tragedies are real, suffering is real, grief is real. The Boston Marathon was yesterday, and the news in the States was filled with memories of the tragedy of the bombings there in 2013. These things happen, lives are changed forever, the damage ripples out over time and space. It would be foolish to think otherwise.
But I noticed on the news that among the threads of the complexity of that tragedy were tales of heroism, of strength, of hope rising from disaster. Even in the face of an unfolding complex sadness, I can choose to follow hopeful threads in my pondering. Their light can stand out even more clearly against the darkness of the background. Where do I put the spotlight of my attention? Sometimes it is up to me where to shine the light.
And I need the light.