I find myself wanting to dwell a little longer on the theme of yesterday’s blog, which was fun, and it’s accidental and chaotic nature as noted in the essay from which I cited by Walter Kirn. Kirn’s bio notes tell us he is of Roma ancestry and “proud of it.” Roma were once called “gypsies.” I don’t know if that’s still an okay word or not? At any rate, the Roma probably have a feel for the anarchic, authority-defying, nature of fun, which Kirn writes about as follows:
“We live in a rule-bound era of high vigilance. It’s a time of emergency measures and vast decrees, of curbs on expression, behavior, and even movement. They are portrayed as serving the common good and some people obey them in this spirit, others so they can be seen obeying them. Fun, with its little anarchies, is suspect. It’s regarded as selfish, wasteful, perhaps unsanitary. To some degree, it always has been this way here, at least since the frowning pilgrims came ashore. ‘Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,’ wrote the cigar-sucking cynic HL Mencken. How else to explain the mentality of leaders who thought to combat a respiratory virus by dumping tons of sand from front-end loaders into a seaside California skate park?”
In this connection, it occurs to me how often at family gatherings and at things like memorial services the stories we recall, with laughter, are of times when things essentially broke down or fell apart in one way or another.
Like the Thanksgiving when a loquacious and full-of-himself brother-in-law out-talked my father-in-law (who himself loved to talk) to the point that the latter passed out at the Thanksgiving table. At the time, of course, we were alarmed and anxious. The town’s aid car was summoned and a trip to the community hospital ensured. In due course, everything was fine. But we still chuckle about the time Uncle C. talked Grandpa J. “into a coma.”
Or I remember the time I was paying a pastoral visit to a family new to the church. It was near Christmas. I was on my good behavior and so were they. We were in their lovely living room where a tall and well-decorated Christmas tree held center stage. We balanced cups and saucers of tea and Christmas cookies.
Then it looked to me like, yes, that perfect Christmas tree had started to lean — in my direction, and now made a slow descent toward my tea and cookies. My horrified hosts sprang into action, catching the falling tree. Pretty soon we were all laughing, the ice was definitely broken, and the tree was righted. Years later we all still remember that pastoral call with great merriment.
So often the fun things we remember have what Walter Kirn called the elements of “accident and chaos.” And as he notes, and especially because of the pandemic, “we live in rule-bound era of high vigilance.” But it’s not just the pandemic. Note the way I wondered above if it was still okay to use a particular word. Lot’s of that kind of anxiety and vigilance these days as well. Or consider the way that most children’s play these days is structured and supervised, as opposed to kids being on their own and lost in world’s of their own devising.
So the connection between fun, accident, chaos. “Fun, with its little anarchies, is suspect.”
Speaking of which, last evening we had a whale of a hail storm. Rain had been threatening off and on, occasionally falling lightly, most of the afternoon. Toward evening the thunder was rolling, as it does here in the mountains. Suddenly, moth-ball sized hail was rifling down everywhere, the icey chunks doing a drum session on the metal roof of the cabin.
My grandson, Colin, was ecstatic. He grabbed my grandfather’s old wide-brimmed “sheriff’s hat” (Grandpa Booth was the County Sheriff at one time). Shouting “I’m going out . . . I’m going out,” as if he heading out to take on a grizzly, and ventured forth into the hail storm. We were all laughing even as we yanked the still wet laundry off the line. When the hail finally subsided we said, “that was fun,” and it was.
And, yes, it was nothing planned, if not accident, then certainly unexpected; chaotic and out of control. And fun.