I walked into the laundry room carrying an armful of sheets just as he entered the adjoining bathroom. He was laughing to himself over something he’d just said, and he giggled out a, “Mommy, aren’t I funny?”
“Nah,” I kidded with a grin on my face…only he couldn’t see my face.
The bathroom door shut about the time I stuffed the first sheet into the washer. Faintly, over the running water, I heard him burst into tears. He wouldn’t have asked me if he was funny if he already knew for sure that he was. The sobs were quiet; they’re always quiet when he’s broken. I dropped the sheets onto the floor and I ran into the bathroom to find him sitting atop the toilet lid with his feet up on seat. Knees to chest he sat whimpering softly; I swept him into the air and quickly into my arms. I cradled him like he was much younger, because broken hearts need to be held.
“You’re hilarious, Baby! Do you hear me? Mommy thinks you are so funny. I was only playing with you. It was my joke that wasn’t funny!”
The incident was over quickly for him, but it lasted all day in my mind. How could I have made a joke that had the potential to break his heart?! I’ve tried to teach my children that a joke only counts as funny if it’s funny to everyone in the room. And this rule does not apply if you’ve controlled the room’s population: i.e. racists jokes at a White Power meeting are still not in the least bit funny.
I’m not attempting to rid the world of sarcasm (I don’t even plan to rid my own life entirely of sarcasm), but it’s important to remember that most jokes make their way into the heart of the recipient–at least to a small degree. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have fallen asleep wondering, “Were they really kidding?” And many of us have cried quiet tears because someone’s joke touched a raw place in our hearts.