Sunday, October 12, 2003 1:26 AM CDT
Ginger AleBy: Gary DeVaul
It was the first word - on the first morning - of the first day - after the accident. Mark was, thankfully, heavily sedated that morning. Morphine was soothing a lump of flesh that had in its 53 years known only the benefits of Coca-Cola. "Wow!" and "Ginger Ale" seemed now to be the extent of his vocabulary!
He didn't know it, because he wouldn't, but Morphine makes you thirsty and boy was he thirsty! At first I swabbed his mouth with ice water because we weren't at all sure he could swallow. We were wrong. He could. And soon enough, he let us know it. The nurse said to me that there was a kitchen just outside the door of his room for ambulatory patients and visitors alike, and that in that kitchen there was Diet Sprite, regular Sprite, and Ginger Ale. "No Coke?" A thin little voice whispered? "No Coke" she said. "Oh wow..." Back to sleep... Then I heard it. It's all I heard for hours. "Ginger Ale" he said. "What?" I replied. Now, more clearly, bubbling up from the cauldron of Markish mirth to the all too sad surface was a little smile, just a hint of the impish humor. I had missed for too many hours. "Ginger Ale!" he said. OK, OK, Gingerale it is! And I'm off on one of many visits to the kitchen, to fetch Ginger Ale.
Well, I found the little kitchen, discovered the dispenser, the cups and ice, and noticed that there was Diet Sprite as well, and thought I would indulge myself, as the sight of Mark's dry lips was making me thirsty too. I poured the Ginger Ale and dispensed a cup of Diet Sprite, stopped to thank the nurse at the nurse's station and without knowing it, mixed the darn things up. Well, for me confusion is a normal state of mind, so one shouldn't be surprised, but I didn't get away with my mixing mistake. Even though this kid was doped up like a drunken prize fighter, when I held the diet drink to his parched lips, he got that curious rather twisted look on his face, took one swallow lest he die of thirst, and said, "What is that? Poison?" I said, "No it's Ginger Ale." "It is not!" Mark said mocking me. "It's something else. You're trying to poison me because I wrecked your truck." That was the beginning of our first day of recovery. The stage was set.
I had come to the hospital early in the morning, after a tossing, sleepless, night. I admit I was draggin' - about as down as I could get. My heart was broken. Every time I looked at my buddy tears of sorrow would burn just beneath the surface. Our friend Jeremy would not arrive for another day and frankly I was a quart low on comfort. Mark's sense of humor changed all that in a twinkle. I did not attempt to poison him. But he reached through the dopey, confused, haze; he found himself in and provided the antidote he knew I needed. That was his first act of mercy to me. A sure indication that he would transform the room and the experience we were about to have with that wonderful, whimsical, dusty, dry, sense of humor. A sense of humor that would sustain all whom he touched throughout this awful ordeal. More importantly, it was the tip-off that the Spirit was present and doing Its healing, transforming, work.
I've made a lot of Mark's sense of humor these past few weeks, but not enough. Not nearly enough. Cuz this humor points us all to a fresh perspective. A perspective born out of God's grace. Humor, I am convinced, is a by product of grace. It can use any vehicle to do its bidding. Be it Ginger Ale, bed pans, or belches. Grace knows no boundaries of custom, manners, or cultural norms. Not at least when it's filtered through Mark Thallander's brand of brain.
As you read these missives, I fear you all have come away with the idea that we spent most of our time in the hospital, in rehab, and at home - in laughter. You know what? You're right. We have. Mark, Jeremy, and John (when he came to visit from California) and I, have spent literally hours laughing. Laughing until we had tears in our eyes. Laughing because it was right next to crying. But the better choice. And why not? Because we're Christians? Because people rarely laughed in the Bible? Because this was a serious life threatening, life changing tragedy? Or because, like they used to say to me when I was a kid caught laughing in church, "It's disrespectful to God?" Well, that's baloney.
We find the New Testament say's, "Your joy no man takes from you" (John 16:22). And it was Jesus' hope and prayer that "His joy should be in His people and that their joy should be full" (John 15:16). Years ago I took the time to count how often the word chara which means joy is used in the New Testament. As I remember, it was fifty eight times! Hurrah! Believe it or not! The word chairein, translates rejoice and it is used seventy three times!
Personally, I happen to nourish a curious affinity for the many insights available to us in the Creation Story. The theology of the Imago Dei found in the first chapter of Genesis telegraphs to me that if we are created in the image of God, and we are, and we have within us the internal, endemic, compulsion, to laugh. And the situation forges the opportunity. Then we had better do the Godly thing - and laugh.
For the past hundred years psychologists, from Franckle to Freud, from Menninger to Messinger, have proscribed laughter as a paramount agent of healing. Diplomats call upon its cathartic powers to ease tensions between nations. Good parents use it with children. Good doctors with patients. But the preachers and teachers of the church of the One who exemplifies it? Well, there aren't enough sermons preached on the subject of humor. The importance of a well developed sense of humor is too often neglected. Mark lost his arm and his father in the same week. The hospital's pharmacy proscribed Morphine for his body. Laughter came on the wings of angels, directly from the pharmacy of the Great Physician to sooth and comfort the souls in need. Did we over dose? I don't think so.
Remember Abraham and Sarah? Sarah and Abraham lived pre Viagra, and Sarah laughed when she was told by God that she would conceive and have a child. Why? She laughed because she and Abraham were in the grip of antiquity. Yah, well what happened? She had the child, and God named the child Isaac, which means laughter! Sense of humor? Give me a break. We have a God in whom humor finds it origin. If you don't believe it, just remember the Giraffe!
In Mt. 15: 27, Jesus is in a conversation with a woman. Which of course he was not suppose to do. Why? Because good Jewish boys didn't talk to women. Especially Canaanite women. And in this conversation we can detect banter between the two. A humor that's inescapable if you listen for it. The disciples came to Jesus and said there's a woman who's crying. Her daughter's possessed with demons and she wants to talk to you. And Jesus said, well I can't talk to her now, and anyway she's not a Jew, and I was sent to minister to the Jews! It wouldn't be fair to give the bread that was meant for the Jews to the gentiles. Well, can you believe it? The woman argued with Jesus. She said, yes it is fair! Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the Master's table. Now get this. Don't miss it. You can see the smile emerge on Jesus' face. Jesus turns on a dime, and you can almost hear him chuckle, amused at the wonderful, faithful, persistence, of the woman. He said, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you as you desire." And the woman's daughter was healed. Grace.
What do we have here? Gods grace faithfully at work in a compassionate, mirth-filled, loving Jesus. Do you question the use of the word mirth in relationship to Jesus? If so, just check your thesaurus, mirth's brother is miraculous. Jesus patently heard the truth from this woman. He responded immediately by cutting through a raft of ancient Jewish laws based on exclusivisim. He not only heard her plea, he acted decisively and healed her daughter. It was a huge thing for Him to do. An act fraught with religious/political problems and he did it, I believe, with a smile on His face.
When Mark's father passed away and Mark's brother Wayne called to tell us the tuff news we were sitting on the bed in the hospital. His face lost its color now, and tears not far away vowed to well. You know what he said to me? He looked at me with those warm, moist, impudent, eyes, smiled his sweetest smile, and said, "Ginger Ale". Off to the kitchen! More grace!
When times get tuff, and do they ever... It behooves us all to bear witness to our friend's humor. Humor is more than just a way to circumvent problems. It is far more than the pop psychologist's hypothesis of denial. It faces truth head-on with a rare and raw boned brand of courage. A courage bathed in the blood of One we love, plucked from the heart of Jesus. A courage that makes life more than a possibility. It makes it an adventure in the pleasure of being alive. It offer's us a new perspective, and helps us see the world not through the prism of tragedy, of lost arms, or legs, or broken hearts, but in the light of He who at creation looked at all He had made - and said, "It is good, it is very good". Good humor is a sure sign of Gods grace. With a healthy quart of Ginger Ale to boot!
it is a shaft of light shining
through a crack in a dark room's door
it stands between us and our sin
a line of light drawn on the floor of our soul
it is born out of love
softens the blows
feathers sorrow's bed
so that deep wounds can heal
it is our divine champion when
the enemy's breath is hot
it is solace when we fail
generous in victory
it makes love palpable
forces us to consider others
under pressure it grows flesh
on the bones of courage
it stands when beauty enters the room
it muffles our anger
transforms it into active love
and petitions for a second chance
it allows us to participate in the sorrows
of the world and laugh at death's dark mask
it is that hidden burst of energy
pushing the runner through the ribbon
it is forgiveness's formula
makes one's own reflection bearable
it draws us back from perfection
to renewed perfection
it is present when laughter and tears
collide in Heaven's lab
thee most precious gift of God
its name is Grace.