We at Word on Fire share a lot of laughs. We're talking a lot. This prompted us to get thinking — is there something about the Catholic faith that lends itself to good humor? Kerry Trotter thinks so, and she shares her hair-brained (and hair-shirted) theories today.
“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”
I saw Woody Allen’s 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” while I was in college, some years after it was released. The movie was required viewing for a drama class I took to fill an arts requirement, attended with little interest but likely with a hangover.
Alan Alda’s film producer character sits on a New York City park bench and explains comedy — how the crowds and stress and suffering of urban life will drive anyone crazy, but that’s where all the humor begins — the whole bending/breaking idea. You just need to get some space from all the madness in order to find the funny. Then there was the line: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
Something snapped in my foggy freshman brain. Hawkeye had a point. While comedy is not quite as cut-and-dry (or insensitive) as the simple “tragedy plus time” equation, there is something there. I let out a loud guffaw at this scene, and noticed my professor wheel his head around, a satisfied smirk on his bearded face.
That professor, an erudite and quirky Dominican friar who wore a cape and a beret over his white habit, wanted us to notice this. This was the lesson. What is comedy? What makes something funny? Beyond events occurring when or where they are not expected (take that beret and cape, for instance), there is another piece. Suffering.
And who knows suffering better than anyone?
Father Damian Ference has learned that having knee surgery is not a "set it and forget it" lesson in quick fixes. Healing takes work, his work, and that can be tough stuff. Today, in the second of his "Lessons from Surgery" series, he shares what he's learned about spiritual healing through the rigors of physical therapy, and how his "scientist" got the ball rolling. But the heavy lifting? That's the patient's burden. Read the first installment here.
The Scientist brought a model of a knee in the examination room with him. Step by step he walked me through the operation. I was fascinated. When he finished, he asked if I had any questions. I did. I wanted to know how long the surgery would take, how long I would be on crutches, how long rehab would take, how long before I could drive, how long before I could walk, how long before I could run, and what kind of risks were involved with my surgery. He took his time and answered each question thoroughly. Two weeks later he sliced into my leg.
The surgery was scheduled for one hour, but the Scientist said that there was more damage to the knee than he was able to determine from the MRI, so it took him a little over two hours to complete the procedure. When I woke up, my left leg was wrapped in an ACE bandage and a fancy leg brace that works as an immobilizer. I ate a bowl of ice and two red popsicles, and then asked if I could go home—I told the nurse I was afraid to get a staph infection. She checked with the Scientist and he released me from the hospital that afternoon.
The surgery happened on Thursday. On Monday I began physical therapy. The Scientist, a nurse and a physical therapist were all in the examination room that day. The nurse took off the brace and bandage. The Scientist examined the incision and commented on the swelling—he said it looked like I’d been icing and elevating often, as instructed. Then he asked me to lift my left leg. I couldn’t. He smiled and explained that he had to cut into my quad muscle in order to flip my kneecap over for the microfracture surgery. He said the muscle would come back, but that it might take a few weeks. That’s when the physical therapist took over and introduced me to the exercises that I would have to do every day, three times a day...
One of the most confounding elements of Christianity is its take on suffering. Why would an all-loving God allow us to hurt? But those who have experienced suffering, who have come out the other side, have a better understanding of what it all means. Father Damian Ference is one such person. Read on to find out what a recent surgery taught him about the Father, his father and grace.
I knew there was something wrong with my knee when it hurt to genuflect. I waited a week to see if it would get better. It didn’t. I made an appointment with a knee specialist who, in the good spirit of Flannery O’Connor, I call “the scientist.” He took one look at my x-ray and told me that I had something called osteochondritis dissecans, which means that part of my knee bone had dried up and died.
The scientist said that when I was going through puberty, I would have banged my knee really hard on something and traumatized one of the growth plates in my knee bone in such a way that it never developed properly. He said I probably wouldn’t even remember the injury. This sounded right, as I was a very active boy, playing baseball, football, basketball, riding bikes and skateboards, and doing all the things that teenage boys do—and I remember banging my knees on a variety of surfaces.
As time passed, the knee got worse. Long bike rides through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, a full-marathon, an olympic triathalon, tennis, snowboarding, and the Insanity workout became too much for my knee to bear. It was Palm Sunday when I started replacing my genuflections at mass with profound bows...