Dear Mice –
You have to admit, we had a good thing going for while, with you not making yourselves visible to me, and me pretending that I didn’t hear you running around in the walls. But since you decided last night to venture across my line of vision, I’m afraid our alliance has ended. You are in for a world of hurt, and although you likely have me outnumbered, I certainly am bigger, smarter, and meaner.
Love, the girl in 23 B
When I was five my parents and I moved into a big red house with an enormous barn on an old farm that my parents had no intention of ever populating with animals or even with produce. Despite their best intentions, however, we picked up a little livestock along the way, inheriting with the farmhouse a smattering of mice that took a few years to eradicate. That experience from years ago is why I suspected that the sound across the ceiling the last few weeks was not, as I hoped, a sign that my upstairs neighbor had gotten a small dog.
Last night, when little Mickey scampered across the kitchen floor as I was reading on the couch, my mind immediately recalled all of the mouse-related anecdotes from those first years in that house. There are too many to mention, but one favorite involves one flying out of the silverware drawer and giving my mother the scare of a lifetime in the week before my brother was born. We sometimes say that’s why he’s a little wacky.
What sticks out from all of these stories is that we find them funny. Even today when I was telling my mother that there’s some critters in my apartment, she made a joke about hearing the snapping of mousetraps in the night. My family has always put a high priority on laughter – some of my fondest memories are of all four of us doubled over in laughter at something one of us had done.
There’s no way I can write about humor – it’s something you do, not something you talk about (although I often say the same thing about liturgy, and then waste a lot of words writing and talking about it). Although a definition of humor eludes me, its opposite does not: taking things too seriously. We laugh because we know what matters, and it’s not the frustration of an unwelcomed furry guest. We laugh because we know that our pride is silly and that life doesn’t go as you plan.
Life can be much more serious than a mouse in the house, but I’m happy to have laughed through tough times too. If I didn’t laugh things would simply eat me alive – sprinkling our trauma with levity can be our only hope. Maybe humor is a coping mechanism, but what’s the alternative? I’ll cope rather than be destroyed.
Few character traits I truly can’t abide, but one is taking ones’ self too seriously. Someone who can’t laugh might as well be speaking a different language than I am. Laughter sustains me through infestations and disappointments, through surprises and grief. Out of respect for the mice, I won’t laugh when I trap them, but I will try to find a funny way to tell the story later.