Dorothy van den Honert: During tough times, don't stop laughing


PITTSFIELD >> For a lifelong, card-carrying, yellow-dog Democrat like me, you might reasonably expect me to be dismayed, if not scared to death, at the possibility that somebody of the ilk of Donald Trump might squeak into the presidency of the U.S. A couple of things at least help prevent me from serious depression or to fear for the life of the republic.

One is a hefty sense of humor, and the other is old age. If you have lived long enough, you will have heard horrible things predicted over and over before and after every election, none of which has yet managed to wipe out democracy.

I remember well the predictions after FDR's terms when all bums would live in Byzantine palaces, all millionaires in tar-paper shacks, the Japanese would hold the Louisiana Purchase and the Nazis everything east of the Mississippi. When Kennedy was elected, Democrats were accused of planning to put the Pope in the White House.

An average American optimist, when a new piece of nonsense comes along, will sigh, have another cup of coffee and prepare to wait a few years until some sense seeps back into the world. But having Mr. Trump (or, for that matter, many of the other Republican candidates) as president would bring alterations that affect millions of people's lives, not to say their comfort and safety. Or the comfort and safety of millions of immigrants' hapless children.

I am too old to wait for horse sense to take over. The inevitable delay will cause a lot of people to be hurt during the changes. So old age will not help me be philosophical. The question, then, is whether a sense of humor will do it.

A very interesting study was done by a psychiatrist some years ago who wanted to investigate what sort of personalities, when subjected to violent emotional strain, could best revert to their normal personalities when the pressure was removed. He included among his subjects soldiers with PTSD, exhausted relief crews who dug out London in World War II, and thousands of prisoners of every sort. He found that when the emotional strain was removed, those who were best able to regain their previous personalities were the ones who had started with the best sense of humor.

Actually, it says so right in the Bible. "Laughter doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit drieth the bones." Somewhat less elegantly, the same idea was put forth by Thomas Ybarra in his "Lay of Ancient Rome."

It starts out:

"Oh, the Roman was a rogue,

He erat was, you bettum:

He ran his automobilis,

And smoked his cigaretum:

He wore a diamond studibus,

And elegant cravatum,

A maximum cum laude shirt,

And such a stylish hattum!

He loved the luscious hic-haec-hoc,

And bet on games and equi:

At times he won; at others, though,

He got it in the nequi:...

Apparently the trick is not to lose your sense of humor, but while you are having your second cup of coffee, plan to do everything you can to persuade, cajole, and talk one percent of our citizens into helping the 99 percent that have gotten it in the nequi.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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