A friend was telling us about someone she knew who got a fine for not wearing a mask. “The police gave him a fine for 300 euro and 50 cents.”
“Fifty cents?” I asked.
She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Three-hundred euro and 50 cents.”
We giggled and speculated where the 50 cents came from. Disobeying the law isn’t something to laugh at, but the ludicrousness of the amount caught me off guard. In Spain, indecent exposure has nothing to do with nudity on the beaches and everything to do with not putting a piece of cloth on your face.
I told my family, “I get tired of wearing a mask all of the time, but I found a way to amuse myself. Yesterday, I made a beaver face almost the entire time I was in a store. It gave me this strange and private satisfaction.”
So we laugh because sometimes we are helpless to do much else. Except maybe go crazy. A friend told me that when she worked in the Alzheimer’s ward. The pain, the sadness doesn’t disappear with a laugh, not even close. But the day we lose our sense of humor, we are treading close to insanity.
Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line, waiting to get onto our late bus back to Immigrantville. A man who had just disembarked, stood in front of the bus and snapped a photo. He didn’t look angry or particularly devious. A little high, maybe, but I didn’t bother accounting for his mental state. He looked non-confrontational enough.
That is, until he approached the bus driver’s window. Shouting echoed through the hollow bus station. I still didn’t pay attention; Spanish culture is usually loud and abrupt.
But I gasped when coins suddenly showered the bus floor. The man had reached through the driver’s window and flipped the coin drawer. I didn’t hear everything that went on, and I’m probably glad I didn’t because as the man slinked away, the driver bounded off of the bus, bellowing a word I won’t record for posterity.
There in the bus station waiting room, one pummeled the other with a “caution wet floor” sign. Then one threw the other against the glass wall with a thud. It was impossible to tell who was winning, but they were planning to kill each other, I was sure.
With the other stunned observers, I started toward the action with absolutely no clue how to help. Someone had the presence of mind to flag down a passing police van and a crew of armed officers piled out to join the action.
Shouting, police removed curious onlookers. I was praying aloud from behind my mask. The anger was real, hot, coming from somewhere deep that had risen to the surface after being suppressed for too long.
As we waited for the information to be gathered and fines to be issued, passengers gathered the coins that had scattered, whether to help or to help themselves was a little unclear. Others returned to the bus, laughing.
Wait. Laughing? What was wrong with these people? Had they no respect? Maybe not. But maybe, the incident was just enough to push them to their own edge and they had two options: lose it or laugh.
In Arabic, there is an important distinction between laughing at and laughing with. In those near-crazy moments, the distinction isn’t so clear. Sometimes it’s just prepositionless laughing, laughing to keep your nose above the murky waters of life until your flailing arms snag the rescuing hand of Hope.