Smile, though your heart is aching

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be. — William Hazlitt, English essayist, 1778-1830

I first stumbled across Hazlitt’s notion by way of Robert A. Heinlein, in “Stranger In a Strange Land,” which I was reading when I should have been reading English essayists. Valentine Michael Smith had asked Jubal Harshaw, “What is ‘Man?'”, and the answer took Jubal a little time to puzzle out.

There was one field in which man was unsurpassed; he showed unlimited ingenuity in devising bigger and more efficient ways to kill off, enslave, harass, and in all ways make an unbearable nuisance of himself to himself. Man was his own grimmest joke on himself. The very bedrock of humor was—

“Man is the animal who laughs,” Jubal answered.

There will be many ponderous pronouncements over the coming days. While we endure them, let’s all remember that Man is the animal who laughs.

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41 Responses to “Smile, though your heart is aching”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    I always enjoy those posts when you get serious, Patrick.

  2. Derek Lenahan Says:

    Such sad topics what good words

  3. BruceM Says:

    Man is the animal who laughs, true. While I certainly agree, there is also a time when we must become angry.

  4. BruceM Says:

    Perhaps, I should have added, become angry at our inhumanity towards one another. Okay, that’s too big of a subject to deal with in short comments. Why we insist on killing one another, and killing at random, I don’t understand.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    I think violence is genetic; the veneer of civilization is quite thin on our inherent genetic code. We never were a peaceful society. Its just that back in the daze, we lynched blacks and shot Asians, Catholics, and Southern Europeans. Now we blow each other up regardless of race, color, or creed. I guess we can say one thing about all that equal opportunity training. Now we are equal opportunity murderers.

    We can become angry, but at whom (is it whom or who, O’G?)? I recall in the days after 9-11, there were friends calling to ask if I was safe because they read that a Sikh guy in Arizona was shot and killed ‘cuz he wore a Sikh turban. You’ve seen one towelhead, you’ve seen them all. When my wife, a Northern Indian (Punjab/UP) of Hindu persuasion, was being investigated by LANL for her job, one of the investigators went up and down the street asking if anyone had seen any bomb-making stuff at our house. Our neighbors thought that was funny and ironic, given LANL’s historical job of making the bomb.

    Damn brown people can’t be trusted. Nor those Boy Scouts like Timmy McVeigh and Charles Whitman. Someone needs to remind us all that there is no future in returning to the Dark Ages.

    • BruceM Says:

      Khal, you’re quite correct. Humanity has a long history of not trusting anyone beyond our immediate village or family. I failed to make myself very clear in that the bomber was angry too, I imagine anyway.

      Being clergy, retired, I’ve heard many talking about Jesus saying to forgive seven times seventy. Jesus also made a whip and drove the money changers from the temple. We are called to live in the global village today, but there is some behavior that must not be tolerated.

      Maybe one day we’ll appreciate people for who they are and not for what they are, but our history doesn’t give me much hope.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Seems like we’re always about one banana away from being the hominid in “2001” who discovers that you can do a lot more with a thighbone than merely walk upright.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        The trouble is, Pastor (or fill in the appropriate title) Bruce, we all have to keep that whip handy. Not only for the money changers in the temple, but for haters, shit-disturbers (to quote Bruce Cockborn), and demagogues, especially those on the web these days. How shall we put this. “Our house was supposed to be for the tired and poor, that they should be freed. Instead, you have turned it into a den of rich, greedy men and demagogues”.

        Watched the Life of Pi last night. Fascinating. If you have not seen it, do so at once. We need something a little less negative to think about, and its too dang windy here for a bike ride.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Thanks for this post, Patrick.

        Khal, if you find a gray Zip Dee chair in your yard, it’s mine. Went up in a dust devil about an hour ago, and it was heading NE at about 1000 ft last time I saw it. Let me know and I will come get it.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I left home on the BMW to get back to work after checking on the dogs and almost ended up in Kansas. Sheesh, that wind.

      • Boz Says:

        khal – Life of Pi was a brilliant piece of work indeed. The Mrs. wanted to watch it Sunday afternoon, though I was interested at first, I sat transfixed to the end. Ang Lee is so good that most everything he does is worth watching.

  6. Stan Thomas Says:

    A case in point : . While I didn’t laugh a smile briefly passed my lips seeing the most famous and iconic road in cycling marked on the map as “Road with hairpin bends”.

  7. khal spencer Says:

    I wonder if someone in Congress will introduce a bill to ban pressure cookers or limit the size of the pressurized container.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Just remember, when pressure cookers full of explosives, ball bearings and nails are outlawed, only outlaws will have pressure cookers full of explosives, ball bearings and nails. More guns!

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Yep. I hear that the National Pressurecooker Association Executive Director, Dwayne LaDerriere, will hold a press conference tomorrow morning and will assert that the staff at every running, bike race and triathlon race should be trained in the use of pressure cookers. Remember, the only thing standing in the way of a bad guy with a pressure cooker is a good guy with a pressure cooker.

        Sheesh. Unfortunately, reality is stranger than anything sarcastic we can dream up.

      • BruceM Says:

        I don’t believe you guys understand the real issue here! It ain’t the pressure cooker that’s the problem, it the damn backpack that concealed them. Ban the backpacks!!!! Background checks on those trying to buy one. And you thought they were just for school. Wake Up! 🙂

      • khal spencer Says:

        Isn’t Massachusetts one of those states that requires a permit and a background check to carry a concealed pressure cooker? Once again, we see that such laws do not deter the criminal but only inconvenience the honest, law abiding corned beef aficionado.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Pressure cookers are a problem. Especially when they are full of corned beef and cabbage. Cabbage is for cole slaw. Sorry to all my paternal ancestors. Outlaw the damn things.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Speaking of outlaws, I wonder if Sho-Air Cannondale is going to do this Epic Ride? It’s in Grand Junction. Guess I need to do a little research on Grand Junction.

  8. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Here’s the link. Khal, I just thought they would make the point a second time.

  9. Steve O Says:

    All I can think of is Joe Pesci saying, funny how?

  10. Libby Says:

    I always look forward to your posts, Patrick. I particularly appreciated your post today and yesterday’s as well.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Libby. I enjoy writing them, though the writing doesn’t always come easily.

      It’s strange — I used to spend all my time doodling, even while taking notes when I was supposed to be covering one thing or another for a newspaper or magazine. Now I hardly draw at all. I’d rather be writing.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Meena is awaiting the day she stops editing regulatory documents so she can enjoy reading and writing for content again.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Khal, I spent a year as a writer/editor for Army technical manuals and their standards. No joy there.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Oh, Lord. I am at the mercy of Dept. of Energy/NNSA and LANL regulatory and work control documents. Its what we inmates refer to as brain-deadening.

  11. Larry T. Says:

    Have yet to speak with any fellow ‘muricans here in Sicily, so know only what’s been in the IHT. Hope like hell this doesn’t result in a bunch of knee-jerk reactions which only make things worse….we’ve been down that road too many times before.

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      Knee jerk reaction? Larry, how could you think such a thing?

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Larry, it’s inevitable. Unreasonable fear is ripe fruit ready to be picked a variety of those who can’t have enough power.

      • khal spencer Says:

        There are those who cannot be sated with enough power, and the ignorant and powerless who are looking for scapegoats. The two groups were made for each other. One of these days we will have our own Reichstag-burning, I fear, and we are already pretty close to an Enabling Act.

  12. John Dallager Says:

    Mankind’s arrogance is exceeded only by its ego-centricity……but here’s a “hope-full” thought from the Harwood Institute as counterpoint:

    The Boston Response: Kindness and Resilience
    Yesterday was Patriots’ Day in Boston, a holiday commemorating the first shots fired in the American Revolution. When the two blasts went off at the Boston Marathon, Americans chose once again not to retreat and turn inward toward themselves, but outward toward one another.
    Amid the chaos and tragedy – and our anger – we should take a moment to recognize the kindness and resilience people displayed yesterday. In one news account after another, one could hear stories about how total strangers responded to the blasts: they ran into the mayhem to help one another. They lifted people up and brought them to medical care, they wrapped tourniquets around injured limbs, they comforted one another.
    People did not recoil, but stepped forward.
    There is the story, too, of which ran this headline: “Need a place to stay? Fill out this form.” The service matched people from out of town with strangers who were willing to make available their bedrooms, sofas, and floors for people to sleep.
    It is often said that our politics and public life no longer work because people no longer care about one another. But that’s wrong. People do care. It’s built into our very DNA. We would do well to find more and better ways to express that caring in our larger politics and public life.
    But for today let us mourn the death of the three victims and pray for the recovery of those who have been injured.
    And let us also recognize people’s goodness – and the possibility and hope that it offers us.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      John, thanks for that reminder. People on the street often step forward to help and care in a crisis and everyday. We need leaders that do the same.

  13. Derek Lenahan Says:

    They can’t take our sense of humor.

  14. Boz Says:

    A few bad apples giving responsible bomb owners a bad name. The only way to make marathons safer is to give all the runners bombs. The NRA thinks more guns will make us safer, so it only stands to reason more bombs will too.

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