Opinion | What Did We Do

Stroudsburg Herald

Photo by SH Mel Brooks 1977 High Anxiety Comedy

By Rob Provitera

I love it when my wife is laughing. It’s not just fun to watch, but it means she’s enjoying something, and when she is enjoying something in my presence, it makes my life better. It’s interesting how I turn her joy around and make it about me.
Even in our most thoughtful and compassionate moments, we often make it about ourselves.
One of my most treasured memories of her unbridled laughter was at home watching a Mel Brooks movie called High Anxiety.

The scene depicted a very nervous and anxious Mel Brooks exiting the plane into a crowded terminal with other passengers. Waiting at the gate, a large woman who seems to be looking straight at him starts screaming and moving aggressively toward him. He is sweating profusely, petrified at the thought of what she would do when she confronts him. His imagination was overwhelming. He closed his eyes, paralyzed with fear, as her loud enthusiasm carried her right passed him to greet another passenger. My wife lost it. She laughed so hard that it seemed to come from the core of her being. It was a scene I will never forget.

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. There has always been a significant connection between a truth that is difficult to swallow and the relief that comedy can bring with it. I began to reflect on that time in our lives and focused on what truths were prevailing for us back then. There were struggles and hardships, and we probably needed that laugh more than we realized. A drunk driver hit our son, and the impact almost took him from us. There were other life events too that were compounded, and we spent a great deal of time in doubt and despair. The tendency to ask why and to question our actions and their relation to these causal events was a common practice. People we were close with were not returning our calls, and some disappeared from our lives.

How did we offend them? "What did we do” these were our go-to reactions. Together, we would recall conversations and events involving these people that could have been the cause of separation. Maybe it was something we said or didn’t say or do. What a vicious circle we were spinning, and we didn’t even realize it.
It took years for the answers to get here, but one by one, our questions were inadvertently bumping into our long-awaited answers. People from our past were finding their way back into our lives, or friends we had in common were filling in the missing pieces of these enigmatic stories. One person was going through a debilitating divorce, and another was ill. Another began a new life in a different part of the world. We learned that not one individual on our missing person list abandoned us because of us.

The scene that depicted my wife and me sweating it out, worrying about who we offended and how we offended them, was not funny to live through at the time. For us, laughter was the 2nd best medicine.
The best and lasting remedy realized was that the doubt and anxiety we had been chewing on for years resulted from our imaginations. The big scary reasons for our losses that we thought were staring back at us were looking right past us. It was not about us at all. We have become much slower to take offense and take things personally. Just because you can hear the scream of trouble doesn’t mean it was intended for your ears. You can be in the scene even when the camera is not pointing at you. Either way, I would prefer to be an extra in the comedy rather than the leading role in the drama.

High anxiety is better viewed from a distance and easier to see with my eyes wide open and a heart that is not so easily offended. We are no longer surprised at how many of life’s movies are not about us. I am just grateful to be on the set and ready to move into a supporting role when and where I am needed.

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