Life would never be the same, and many of us wondered if we could ever laugh again—physically, emotionally, spiritually. There were unsuccessful attempts met with condemnations of "too soon." The equation that comedy = tragedy + time didn't tell us how much time. Mel Brooks often challenged others' interpretations of that, successfully facing it head on with movies such as both versions of "The Producers."
We know from many survivors of horror, such as Viktor Frankl, and the clowns who entertain children in Middle East war zones and other places, humor, even "gallows humor," often has a place in the midst of unimaginable situations.
Next April, The Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor will center its whole conference on the very idea of "too soon." I'm sure part of the discussions with be the Comedy Equation, and how the "time" factor must remain an unsolvable variable that will require many other calculations to glean.
As the anniversary of 9-11 approaches, I look back again on what I wrote that year, doing my best to assure myself and others, that, yes, we would laugh again. That in fact, laughter is a necessary part of healing.
As I write this, October 2001 is spreading the golden crown of fall across most of America. A sense of change is in the air, as nature prepares herself for the long restful sleep of winter. And, deep within us, there is change too – not a seasonal change brought about by nature, but a violent upheaval that reverberates to the innermost depths of the soul. Our hearts have been slashed open by an insidious foe hiding behind a cowardly mask of self-serving ideology. Our pain is so great, we know we have been changed forever, and in our grief, in our mourning, in our righteous anger comes the feeling that we will never smile again. Indeed those of us who have survived these horrific events, those of us who can hold our loved ones to our breasts are burdened by an overwhelming sense of guilt and a helplessness that is almost paralyzing.
But we have been asked to get back to business. We have been asked to prove that our way of life here in America is not something that can be snuffed out by those who place no value on life, have no sense of honor and seek only to destroy all who cannot feed into their megalomania. Indeed, they are depending on the very things that make us American – our compassion, our openness, our hands that we extend in friendship to those who love and hate us — to let them get to us, hurt us, kill us. But those hands have now closed into fists of anger and frustration, those hands have grasped the tools of rescue and rebuilding, those hands have raised the flag of freedom and justice, and those hands are reaching across the globe, to find the cowards where they hide, to drag them out into the light of day, where no evil thing can live. And slowly, yes, slowly, our tears will dry. Our faces will wear the grim visages of determination; our eyes will focus on the task ahead. As one, we will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, stronger and fiercer. And when the dust, dirt, debris and blood of the battle clears – we will stand, united and free still.
And yes, as time goes by, we will smile again, we will laugh again. The United States, the nation blessed and charged with standing as the shining example for all, will go on. But we shall never forget.