An old television commercial showed a woman describing the many demands in her life and when she finally got to her breaking point, she looked towards the heavens and said, “Calgon, take me away.”
She was immediately transported to an overly sudsy bathtub and relieved of all the stress in her life. I’m not sure if any religion actually recommends the use of Calgon as its spiritual cleanser but I do like the simplicity of summoning bath bubbles from the heavens as a way to escape the challenges of life and work.
After what seems like a lifetime of health, political, and economic challenges, I suspect we could all use a sudsy tub of Calgon to take us away. However, I think humor is another option that helps us handle stress—but without the suds and the need to get naked. You see, when all we see is stress, that’s all we will experience. Yet, if we can see something else in the very midst of the stress, we can experience a respite from it. Let me give you a few examples.
After a long time of being off the road, I am now speaking at in-person events again. But I must admit that my traveling skills are a bit rusty. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a very nice resort in Pennsylvania. While masks were not required for those of us who were vaccinated, I chose to wear one because I would be interacting with a lot of people.
As most of you know, communicating with a mask is challenging. First of all, you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions and surprisingly, it’s hard to judge non-verbal cues just by looking at someone’s eyes. And further, our words often sound garbled.
When I got to the resort, the front desk clerk said, “Do you frmpth dus chngl stld?” I nodded, assuming he had asked if I was checking in. He then pointed towards the door. I was confused. As a college student, I was kicked out of a hotel or two but as a responsible adult, I have never been turned away before I even checked in.
I pulled my mask down and said, “Pardon me?”
He pulled his mask down and said, “Will you need to valet your car?”
“Oh,” I said, “no thank you. I’ve already parked my car.”
For the next few minutes, our conversation continued in this manner. There was initial confusion. That was followed by a clarifying question which actually led to more confusion. The confused confusion required our masks to be lowered so that we could speak unencumbered—which eventually resulted in a mutual understanding, a wink of acknowledgement, and a quick replacing of the masks. Finally, after much effort, the check-in process was complete.
The front desk clerk then lowered his mask once again and said, “To get to your room you need to go down that corridor over there until you get to the first restaurant. Then turn left and go up the ramp to the atrium. Beside the gift shop in the atrium, which is different from the emporium by the way, you’ll see a set of elevators. Those are not your elevators. Go past those elevators until you pass the jewelry store on your left and the coffee shop on your right. Take the hallway on the left behind the display case showing early American drinking containers. After a few hundred yards down that hallway, you will arrive at your elevators.”
Confidently, having heard every unmasked word, I headed off. After fifteen minutes and being certain that I had crossed into the state of Ohio, I could not find a restaurant, a gift shop, or any elevators. In the process, I passed through the lobby three times. Finally, on my third trip the lobby bartender said, “Can I help you?”
I told him I would appreciate his help. He then took out a map of the resort and said, “You’re right here and you need to go there.”
With the map in hand and his encouragement behind me, I was sure I could find the elevators. Ten minutes later, I was next to what appeared to be the boiler room in front of a door with a sign that read, “Do not open or alarm will sound.”
I felt like I was in the movie Spinal Tap.“Hello Cleveland!”
I finally found a member of the housekeeping staff who kindly escorted me to my room. At this point, I just wanted to unpack and relax. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights in my room. I pushed several buttons but nothing happened. I hit what looked like a switch and a light came on, but then immediately went off. I ultimately had to search Google for instructions to get all of the lights on. Feeling that I had triumphantly defeated this newfangled technology, I fell back onto the bed exhausted—and off went the lights.
The next morning when I started my presentation, I said, “Did anyone else have trouble working the lights in your room?”
The audience burst out laughing and heads nodded all around the room. It was in that moment that I realized I had not fully embraced the humor that had been right in front of me the day before. Instead, I got caught up in my frustrations rather than the absurdity of the moment. When we can appreciate the absurdity, the frustrations lose their grip on us.
Similarly, I was discussing the use of masks with a woman attending a conference in Ohio. Due to the resurgence of the virus, she said, “At my Catholic church, we’ve now gone back to masks on Zoom.”
Now I know that some organizations are very cautious when it comes to the virus, but wearing a mask while on Zoom seemed a bit over the top. I asked her why they would need masks on Zoom and she said, “No, we’ve gone back to mass on Zoom.”
We had a wonderful laugh about my mass-understanding and once again, I was grateful to see that humor was there for the taking.
Lastly, after paying for my meal at a restaurant in Illinois, the waiter came back with my credit card and said, “My one isn’t working.”
I had no idea what he meant. I considered that he might be making a reference to God and that perhaps, he had found that he was no longer confident in The One?
So, I said, “Your one what?”
He said, “Oh, somebody spilled beer on the credit card machine last week and now, the one button doesn’t work. So, can I charge you twenty dollars, instead of fourteen, and then give you six dollars back in cash…since my one doesn’t work?”
I told him that would be just fine. And then, after writing down what he said, I laughed all the way back to the hotel.
Even in the midst of our journeys, our masks, and our spills, there is usually humor nearby. If you can see it, I think it has the potential to take you away, just like Calgon, to a better state of mind and a better experience.