Laughing in the Face of Danger

If the world weren’t such a scary place, my family could be a sit-com. My parents are very conservative, fundamentalist Christians. Chris and I are the steady, quiet, married-thirty-years boring couple. Our 26-year-old twin sons wish they had come of age in the 1960’s, and dress the part – dreadlocks, beads, tie-dye, no shoes unless absolutely required. One is living with a woman who actually was a child of the 60’s (which makes her a few years older than I); the other is in a serious relationship with a girl adopted by a Jewish mother and a much older Cuban Catholic father. My beloved son-in-law is a young black man. One of my brothers is a U.S. Park Ranger and a shaman, married to a woman closer to our mother’s age than his, after two previous failed marriages – the first to a good fundamentalist girl who left him after a couple years for another woman. My other brother is gay and a licensed parson; his partner is Mexican. A comedy writer could have a field day with these components.

But it’s hard to find anything to laugh about in the midst of sickeningly regular hate crimes, knowing that people very much like people I love have been and will again be targeted. I’m more likely these days to weep. I almost despaired of finding anything I could write in connection to our summer’s muse, Thalia.  But I dutifully did my research about her – and discovered that she is traditionally the muse of comedy *and* pastoral poetry: poetry that notices and celebrates bits of beauty and simple pleasures, poetry that feels natural and homey.

As you might imagine, family gatherings of my diverse clan can be a bit tense. It’s not easy to find a large enough area of common ground for us all to stand comfortably on. But we have the saving grace of being able, despite our many differences, to laugh together. Sometimes we laugh in shared happiness, often in pure silliness. We laugh over the antics of our pets, and at the human foibles we catch ourselves in. Most especially, we laugh in memory of certain little absurdities in our shared history: the way Grandpa would cuss in front of us kids, substituting “Waxahachie, Nacogdoches!” for his usual stronger words; the time Grandma calmly pulled a pancake out of her purse at the bank; Great-aunt Edna Earle’s consistent interest in pulling over to read every “hysterical” marker along the road; my twin boys wishing my mother “Happy Nose Ear!” on the first day of 1992, and so many others.

The world looks very dark and frightening in our times. Beauty and simplicity are under constant attack. Our homes are not impenetrable bulwarks against evil. But ultimately the dark cannot overcome the light. Joy will win out over suffering. And as Frederick Buechner puts it in Telling the Truth, “(Laughter) comes from as deep a place as tears…it comes not as an ally of darkness but as its adversary, not as a a symptom of darkness but as its antidote.”


Becka Choat is a lifelong lover of words who spends many hours each week in a room of her own, writing or reading and drinking coffee. Her book reviews can be found at, and her poetry and other musings at You may also follow @beckachoat and/or @booksbybecka on Twitter.

Image by Jean Scheijen via


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