by Howard Hain
Norman Rockwell, “The Jester”, 1939
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 5, scene 1
Early this morning, Francesca and I had a good laugh.
The sun was up, we were not. We were out late a few days ago. On Saturday night we visited a friend’s home and didn’t get to bed until after 11. That’s pretty late for all of three of us, but for Francesca, from her six-year-old perspective, it was “almost the next day!”
So this morning, the Monday of a new week, we found the consequences of that shortened Saturday-night sleep still catching up with us.
Francesca had made her way from her bedroom to the couch I guess around five. I sat up just about half past, the sun fully making its presence known, and as I looked toward the couch I saw Francesca propped against some pillows, cuddled up in the corner, eyes open, but still quite in sleep mode. I walked toward the kitchen to hit the coffee button, and as I passed in front of the couch I broke into an overly-exaggerated stroll. As I disappeared into the kitchen I caught a peek of Francesca’s smile.
When I reentered her line of vision, just a handful of seconds after hitting the “on” button, she was sitting up straight, smiling broadly, and said quite adamantly: “Do it again.”
“Do what again?”, I smiled.
“Walk like that again!”, she immediately answered back, moving her little arms in a fashion somewhat like I had moved mine.
“What are you talking about?”, I tried to say with a straight face as I walked the same way back across the room.
“Like that!”, she exclaimed, laughing and pointing at my arms.
And we were off and running, or should I say, “walking”. Over and over again, I would say: “What’s wrong with how I’m walking?”, and then she would point out what was “out-of-order” regarding my gait. Each time I would—with as much seriousness as I could muster— “correct” what she pointed out and then try again, this time adding yet another new “discrepancy”. One time I swung my arms wildly, another time I goose stepped, then I raised my knees too high, one round I walked “perfectly” but made funny noises with my mouth as I moved, and this went on and on, or I should say, we went on and on, and each and every time she was laughing more and more, getting more and more exasperated and adamant about what it was that I was not doing right.
“Just walk normal!”, she would laugh, and I would answer, “I am”, again and again. And then it got really funny. I could barely keep a straight face for even a few seconds. She herself began to illustrate how to properly walk, and seeing her trying to walk “normal”, which only resulted in her walking quite “un-normally”, only added to the Buster-Keaton type ridiculousness taking place in our tiny little living room. And all the while Laurie was just a few feet away still in bed, I wont say still asleep, because I have a hard time believing she could continue to snooze through all that ruckus.
But what really brought the house down was when I began to “really try” to walk right, listening intently to all her instructions, and painfully listing each one, and at the same time actually beginning to get confused. I had to think to myself for a second, “How is it that a person actually does just get up and walk?”. It is amazing what happens, what a mess we can make of things, when we try to understand and take control of what comes so naturally to us, of what comes so easily to almost all of mankind by the very nature of who we are, and seemingly without any effort or consciousness. But this little philosophical reflection didn’t stand a chance, Francesca was still on the scene and a child just wont permit, not even for a second, the antics of self-indulgent adult reflection to get in the way of a good time. She was focused on the action at hand, on the flow, from one act to the next, and she now had herself hysterical about the next and final slapstick scene in our not-so-silent film.
For you see, she discovered something in me that’s just priceless in her estimation. She loved the fact that I developed this little movement, quite unintentionally, as I “prepared” to try again to walk properly. I would kind of slightly waddle in place, lining up and squaring my feet, while at the same time slightly rotating my hips and shoulders, trying to position my feet, hips and shoulders just right. I guess I began to resemble a gymnast right before he launches the big run leading toward a long series of tumbles, or better yet, perhaps a diver in the Olympics right before leaping off the high board. Well, either way, this was more than Francesca could handle. She let out a true belly laugh, and then pointing wildly at my shoulders: “Daddy, do it again!”
At this, she jumped off the stool that she was now teetering upon, trying with all her might to mimic me. We both we’re beside ourselves with laughter. It was an absolute blast. It was creative chaos at its best. All heaven broke loose.
I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee yet. My morning prayers were still in a holding pattern. And then the thought came to me. A thought came to this continually under-occupied, perpetually unemployed forty-four-year-old man who just can’t seem to find his way in this world: “I should be a clown.”
I asked Francesca what she thought about my new career path. She loved the idea!
“Yes!!! Do it Daddy, do it!”
I decided to keep my prayers this morning to a few simple Our Fathers.
God was clearly praying for me since the moment I awoke.
The Spirit groans on our behalf, perhaps He laughs for us as well.
Prayer is prayer. This morning, Francesca’s laugh, and mine as well, was the peal of the morning bell—calling all the world to still attention—before the settling in of the business of another new day:
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace…