Need a Word of Encouragement?
The Best Medicine
Waymon Worsham holds a special place in my heart. A good man. The sort of man who makes the institutions he was embedded in work and thrive and last - his home, his church, the business he was a part of, his neighborhood, his country. He loved the values expressed with clarity in old American Westerns and he loved a good breakfast. He stood square to the world, with good sense, and a brand of humor that makes a heart happy. Part of it I think was that he was from East Texas and he reminded me of my own kin, ready with a joke or a dry remark, often at his own expense. Waymon always said he graduated in the top 14 of his high school class...of 14. He took joy in putting others at ease with a smile on their face. He was serious about all the right things, but never took himself too seriously. Waymon passed away last October.
I was not able to visit too many folks in the hospital in 2020, but I went to see Waymon at Houston Hospice the day he died. There, Waynette, his daughter and caregiver, told me a story about what had occurred a couple of days before. Her brother, Chuck, had come in from out of town when Waymon went into hospice. When Chuck arrived, Waynette took a short break, stepping out of the room for a moment to get some lunch. While she was out, Waymon suggested to Chuck that they change rooms so when she returned, she'd have to search around for them.
I found this story really amusing. That a person facing death, in real pain despite the palliatives administered, was still interested in mischief and absurdity and was even up for carrying out the joke just for the 'yuks.' It struck me as beautifully life-affirming, a real triumph of the human spirit.
Humor is like joy's little brother. And joy is a form of fortitude, a kind of hope in and of itself. Humor and its resulting laughter somehow cut through darkness like light, breaking tension, and completely resetting a room. It brings on a new closeness through the alchemy of shared emotion and experience. It helps us take a step back, casting some perspective on ourselves, on conflict, even on tragedy. The comic changes our body language, causing our muscles to relax, to let our guard down, and to deepen our breath. The endorphins released when we laugh are natural pain killers, lowering our blood pressure, even giving our immune system a natural boost. This is all consistent with the Proverbs, our faith's go-to text on wisdom: "A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones." Proverbs 17:22
In an article published in the Grand Rapids Press, Tom Rademacher interviewed a woman named Sister Maria Faustina, a spiritual caregiver for a hospice in Michigan. "I recently sat with a woman who was looking back on how she'd met her husband," Sister Maria said. "It was a very happy moment, and it brought her joy. It made her smile. And in her eyes I could see it as though it was happening all over again."
Waymon's proposed hospice prank did something like this for me. Even now it makes me think of how he was, the community to which he contributed in our Fellowship Hall over dinner on Wednesday nights, then on to comical episodes I shared with my own grandfathers, placing before me unassailable evidence of the richness, beauty, and joy of life.
Dr. Angela Gorrell is an assistant professor of practical theology at Truett Seminary. In her upcoming book, The Gravity of Joy, she posits that joy operates as a sort of bulwark for our souls in the midst of troubled times. She speaks of its mysterious, if not miraculous, properties, how it can traverse both time and space. She suggested we can access joy meditatively through memory. By simply remembering an episode of joy, a happy moment, a pleasurable time, and recalling to mind the sights and scents present, the sounds, the tastes, the feelings that were at hand, we can in a very real way experience a measure of them again.
It is clear to me that the joy held in the repository of our memory is in fact real joy divinely available to us, and it's folks like Waymon Worsham who teach us that humor is often the key to opening it.
May I laugh with joy today from a story, a joke, an experience, a memory and share it so it protects not only my soul, but cheers on others. Amen.
? Greg Funderburk