Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"One man’s caviar is another man’s soggy dumpling"

Trying to find humor in the everyday world can be either extraordinarily easy or difficult depending upon the perspective you are willing to take on the everyday situations of life. This past week and a half of record snowfall in Baltimore threw everyone for a loop, including myself. In fact, today was the first time that I was able to be involved in service for several weeks due to insistent snowfall. However, humor can be found in worst of situations. Two Saturdays ago when the first storm hit, our apartment on campus lost electricity. Rather than complaining about the loss of the endless entertainer, our television, we took to creating ice cream out of snow (as it turns out you shouldn’t add too much cocoa mix to the concoction!). And we played Apples to Apples with interesting results, including the inappropriate combination of the descriptor card “Explosive” and someone’s reply being “Japan”.

Unfortunately because Mother Seton was opening two hours late this morning, I missed seeing the kids during my morning shift. However, while working with the teacher, I learned just how affected people still are by this storm and just how many things can be taken for granted. We may have lost electricity, but many people lost their heating and many side streets in Baltimore remain untouched by any plows. A day without the television is a far cry from losing the ability to drive out of your neighborhood or to stay warm during this historic winter weather.

Speaking of difficult conditions, the traveler in Millman’s story, much like many Loyola students was able to find the joy in situations others try to avoid. This traveler opts to survey Iceland and the northern regions of Europe in order to explore the sunless gray skies, cold weather, and slow-moving pace of places often ignored by travelers who prefer sandy beaches or the Taj Mahal. He recognizes that he sees a different sort of beauty and he makes the point that, “In travel, as in food, one man’s caviar is another man’s soggy dumpling” (6). The same could be said of those who chose to relish in the snow by making snow angels, forts, and having snowball fights. Perspective is everything in terms of seeing the unconventional beauty that is right in front of you. That’s not to say that there are no bad experiences as we have seen that snow can cause great strife. The traveler had a decidedly low point when he witnessed the contagious seasickness that ran rampant on the boat in the beginning of the story. Some may call this scene grotesque in that he depicts in vivid detail about how everyone was getting sick, but I found great humor in the lines, “Now everything, from the flavor of tchibouque to the bittersweet aroma of underarm and foot to the rising tide on the floor, began to take on a quality of horror. I hadn’t been seasick yet, but I knew that if I stayed put, the corn would ignite the fuse to my stomach in seconds.” (2).

Transitioning to the theorists in the readings, Douglas creates several working definitions of the joke ritual as well as jokers. The latter, in which he defined jokers as one who “lightens for everyone the oppressiveness of social reality…”, is a fairly profound statement. Many theorists discussed how humor can release tension, and in this reading Douglas discusses the use of humor at a funeral. This reminded me of Kierkegaard who felt that there was a thin line between humor and the serious as both states of laughing and crying can release that tension. Thus it seems so appropriate that the joker can bring lightness to the heaviest and most horrible of all social realities, namely death. And to further this point, Turner would say that the relationships we have had in the past are often reflected in our emotions and how we try to reconcile those emotions. Thus the ways that people react to death and to funerals are going to stay with us when we have to unfortunately face that reality again.

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