The Divine Joker

Court Jester detail

by Rob Colfax

As I was walking along the road near my house this morning, my attention was captured by some brilliant pink flowers blooming from the branches of what I thought was a walnut tree. I’m not a botanist but since I was pretty sure that walnut trees don’t have flowers, certainly not vivid pink ones like this, I stepped over to have a closer look. The bright pink blooms, it turned out, weren’t actually growing on the tree itself; a morning glory vine had entwined itself among some other foliage so that from a distance, the morning glories looked like they were growing right on the tree.

Does the universe have a sense of humor?

It reminded me of an amusing incident from several years ago. My neighbors then were a retired couple who took great pleasure in tending their yard and garden. She often had friends over, and their visits generally culminated in a tour of her flower gardens as she pointed out the various flowers and bushes to them. She knew the proper names of all her plants as well as the common names, and had a rather impressive knowledge of gardening.

Early one morning as I let the dog out, I saw her husband in the garden. He was sneaking around in his pajamas, quietly using twist-ties to affix some plastic tulips to the low-hanging branches of a young dogwood tree that had, so far, refused to bloom despite their best efforts. Amused, I wandered over to find out what he was up to. He grinned and explained, “She’s got her Sunday school class coming over later. I’m just playing a little joke.” Sure enough, that afternoon about a dozen ladies in their sixties made their way through the flower gardens, oohing and ahhing over my neighbor’s horticultural expertise, until someone noticed the peculiar blooms on the dogwood. They all crowded around the little tree for a better look, and of course, spotted the twist-ties and realized the flowers were plastic tulips, and everyone had a good laugh at the hoax (except for one stout little lady wearing glasses so thick she thought she was looking at a rosebush, and someone had to explain the joke to her).

Do you ever think that maybe the universe has a sense of humor? Have you ever wondered whether some things are just so patently silly and ridiculous that they’re not meant to be taken as truth? Maybe sometimes we suffer from a sort of psychic astigmatism, a blurring of the inner vision that prevents us from spotting the hoax, getting the joke, or seeing the humor.

I suspect that the universe (or the intelligence behind the universe, if you prefer) has a wonderful sense of the absurd, and that some of the “big ideas” we struggle so hard trying to pin down might be better understood if we simply laugh it off, go on to the next thing, and don’t take it all quite so seriously. We’re creatures of habit, though, so once you attain some small measure of success with something (anything) through “hard work and effort,” you tend to apply the same principle to everything else – or, as some very wise person once said, “If your only tool is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.”

Even the most compulsive of us can make a change for a brief amount of time, though. So why not try this: just for today, allow yourself to see the humor in some ludicrous situation rather than getting all bent out of shape about it. Just for today, think of yourself as a patron of the theater of the absurd, and appreciate the sheer silliness of the performance you’re witnessing. If you really enjoy it, you can even participate in the show yourself. You can always go back to being a sober, responsible person tomorrow. But just for today, why not let yourself be part of the sublime joke?

© Copyright 2006 by Rob Colfax. Republished 2011, 2015.

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