Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Rain Man, Reclaiming Joy, & There’s Something About Mary

One of the pivotal scenes in the movie Rain Man occurs when Raymond, who has been repetitively repeating the "Who's on First" monologue from Abbot and Costello throughout the movie, finally comes to understand that the routine has no answer and is in fact a joke. Being autistic, Raymond didn't find funny what most people did, but finally understands when he bonds with his brother. He expresses this realization through humor, and it is a beautiful moment and a beautiful lesson.

This Rain Man analogy can also be applied to many people who seek psychological services, as they too have lost the ability to recognize the opportunity to appreciate humor in their lives. Often they come in bewildered that others "get" something about life that they don't, and that somewhere there is a parade passing them by that no one bothered to extend them an invitation to.

The beauty of the scene in the Rain Man  was that it wasn't that Raymond out of nowhere suddenly understood comedy, but his laughter was instead a reflection of the fact that he had built a relationship. This relationship with his brother was difficult, painful, and occasionally exploitative, but in the end it was something that dramatically changed and improved his quality of life. Friendships are sometimes like this. Although we may at times feel friends are a drain on our time and our emotional resources, it is ultimately our relationships with others that determines our happiness in life. 

The wonderful psychologist Alfred Adler suggested that all problems are ultimately social problems, and this is especially true with the amount of laughter we have in our lives. My experience teaches me that people who aren't laughing enough have almost always found a way to physically or emotionally isolate themselves from others. This is the rub. Often people who experience alienation feel that no one could possibly understand the world the way they do, and you know what? They're right!!!! The way we all individually process the world is so different that it is a wonder that we are able to make connections. But somehow we do, and in understanding why this is, I want to share a personal anecdote about my own road back from alienation.

The year was 1998 and I had been in Chicago for a couple of years. I moved to the city thinking I would be whisked away to Saturday Night Live within a couple of months in the city, but in reality I was often performing more for the busboys I worked with than the American Public, and I sank into a deep depression as my dream seemed to move further and further away. Alienation set in. I felt like I was the only one in the world who had a dream that didn't quite work out, and I stopped returning phone calls as I continued to wallow in my own pity. One day a friend came in to the bar I worked with and told me there was a movie I absolutely must see. It was called There's Something About Mary and, although I hadn't been out socially in months, I pulled myself together and went to the show.

Arriving at the movie, I took a seat in the back and settled in. Soon, although I was sure the movie wouldn't be that great, I began to laugh, and then I began to really, really laugh. In my laughter I looked around and saw that people were in near hysterics from watching the movie. Monitoring my own laughter and looking around and seeing people go so crazy, I soon got caught up in the hysterics and, for the first time in months, laughed so hard that my stomach hurt.

The next day I returned, but this time instead of watching the movie, I found myself watching the people watching the movie, and it filled me with a sense of pure, unadulterated joy. Seeing others happy made me happy, and for the first time in quite some time I felt that I was a member of the parade again. On my third day watching the film, Albert Camus' statement "In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer" rushed into my head, and this became a mantra that would get me through the next several months of my life.Looking back on those days, I now understand that it was the laughter that brought me back from the brink. Much like the Rain Man I had found a way to connect to others, and this connection reawakened me to the possibility of joy in my life. It was truly a magical transformation, and one I'll never forget as I work with people who have lost the sense of joy in their own lives.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

'Who's On First' is a classic comedy routine.

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