One of the holiest women I have ever known did little with her life in terms of worldly success; her gift was that of bringing laughter with her wherever she went, no matter how dark or how grievous the occasion. Wherever she went, holy laughter was present to heal and redeem”. ~Madeleine L’Engle
In a post that I wrote last week, when the uprising in Egypt had not yet gained the momentum or attention on the world stage that it now has, I spoke about the indomitable spirit of the Egyptian people voiced in the phrase “Tomorrow, God Willing!” Along with this I am always amazed at the good-spirited humor and laughter present in my interactions with Egyptians. Whether they are correcting my Arabic, telling a story, or describing daily life there is a lightness and humor that is ever-present. Perhaps this humor has been present since the Ancient Egyptians lived royal lives and left a legacy of mummies and tombs or perhaps it’s more recent. Regardless, it is a gift.
One doesn’t have to look far to find things to complain about in Egypt, which is one of the reasons we are seeing a revolt. Dust is thick in the air, masses of people and noise are ever-present, the infrastructure could never be called either efficient or organized, and the country has been in a type of recession for years – but in the midst of this there is a remarkable spirit. That is why this humor and ability to laugh is so remarkable and makes Egypt a country that gets under your skin so you want to go back, and back, and back…
Reports from the ground confirmed this good will and humor that had been present in the anti-government protesters until Wednesday. With the infiltration of pro-government counter protests bringing with them a violence and a questionable authenticity that spirit was severely challenged. Hundreds wounded and we don’t know how many dead. A frantic call for medical supplies and people to Tahrir Square went out over social networks and gave a picture of the desperation of the wounded. Friends and family(daughter) on the ground continue to express the need for Egypt to get a‘long overdue, more accountable, more democratic, and more socially conscious’ government.
The ability to laugh at life and laugh at and with each other is both holy and a healer. The ability to talk about experiences whether shared or otherwise is restorative. Unni Wikan ,who I have mentioned in the past, penned these words over 10 years ago but as I read them it feels like she wrote them recently:
“For the people I know in Cairo, life implies suffering and problems to a degree we can hardly fathom. And yet they do not have enough with their own. With them there are practically no limits to people’s willingness and ability to engage with one another. Is it because they are mentally more resourceful than we are? have more time than they do? or more compassion of their fellow beings? The answer lies elsewhere, I believe. What they do have that makes a real difference is a conviction, a tried and true belief, in the frailty and fallibility of human beings. Whereas in my society, we stick to the pretension that being perfect is possible…”
As I think about these protests and the future for Egypt I know it will take all the resources and resilience available
to Egyptians to continue hope in these next days. I am looking and longing for the day when Egyptians can once again express these gifts and experience the holy and healing power of humor, laughter, and talk.
Authors note: The book “Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art” by Madeleine L’Engle is where I first heard laughter described as a gift. I have a couple of people in my life who have this gift – the first being my husband, he is quick to see the humorous side of a situation and challenges me on my tendency towards over analyzing. The second is my friend Marty, making cakes and playing games with people in Cairo simultaneously keeping track of a revolution in her back yard and tanks going down her street. A posting on her Facebook page says that Day 1 she made ‘Revolution Cake’;Day 2, ‘Curfew Cake’ and so on bringing a lightness in the midst of chaos. The third – my sister-in-law Carol. I’d go do flood relief in Pakistan anytime with her by my side!