The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
– e e cummings
One of the most life-affirming experiences I have had recently came courtesy of a woman who has survived some of the most traumatic experiences a human being can live through. When she was twelve years old, this First Nations woman, a friend of a friend, was sent to a British Columbia residential school. Although she did not experience the sexual assault or extremes of physical punishment that are a common theme of so many residential school stories, it was nonetheless a harsh and painful experience. At this institution she suffered routine corporal punishment and public humiliation for breaking a bewildering set of rules she could not fully comprehend. Even worse, she was deprived of her community, her language, her culture, her dignity, and her family.
Driving home after meeting her, I was troubled by thoughts of what life would have been like if I had had the support systems and caring people who meant so much to me as I was growing up taken away from me. Who would I be today without the love and wisdom of my grandparents, or the safe, comforting protection of my mother and father? Would I have been strong enough to survive this loss, to go on and thrive in the belief that the world and the people in it are essentially good? I hope I would, but it is a difficult question to answer.
What struck me most about this woman, though, was not the fact that she had survived this ordeal, or even that she had survived it with her dignity, thoughtfulness, and positive outlook intact, although she clearly had. What filled me with admiration and hope is the fact that she survived it with a profound and joyful sense of humour. While not shying away from recounting some of the harsher realities of the school, her stories were filled with funny anecdotes about practical jokes and the sorts of minor but hilarious follies associated with growing up, no matter where you live. All through this encounter, I couldn’t help, also, but reflect on some of the far more minor trials and tribulations experienced in my own life, and it gave me the determination to face whatever twists and turns of fate lie before me with the most powerful shield we have against the darkness of the world: laughter.