Why do we laugh at the most inappropriate moments?
She was kicking the end of the pews in St Marys Cathedral. The whole row of seats were moving on an angle they weren’t supposed to be facing, with me and a row of noisy tourists on top.
I was laughing so much I couldn’t speak.
We had come here because I wanted somewhere quiet to be – a sanctuary. I desperately needed a sanctuary, but it wasn’t.
St Mary’s Cathedral used to be a quiet, peaceful void, away from the world. A space with pregnant air that gave succour to pain. I’m not talking about the people, I’m talking about the space – universal space, that welcomes everyone. That’s what a sanctuary is to me. But, today, it was full of noisy tourists, and I was shocked.
She wasn’t, though. She kicked the end of the pew, trying to find where she was, where the end of the seat was. She’d rarely been in a church, and probably never been into the cathedral, and had no clear image in her mind.
‘What are you doing?’ I whispered, having caught my breath.
‘Trying to find the end of the seat.’
‘You’ve found it.’ I smiled. ‘Come and sit down’ and led her to a seat next to me.
To the outside world I probably seemed heartless, laughing at her. Why do we laugh at what seems to be an inappropriate moment? Because, given the context of the situation, and the people you are sharing the moment with, there are times when you need to laugh. And, as long as you are the only ones that hear the comments and the laughter, it is, I think, a healthy release.
Front line workers, medical staff, laugh at things they would never share with outsiders. And it’s usually a healthy release from the confronting things they experience.
After we left the cathedral, we sat in the sun on a bench in the park. We had time before the next appointment. A couple of women stood nearby with their religious pamphlets and billboard.
‘Don’t come over here,’ I thought.
For some reason, they didn’t, which surprised me. I didn’t think they were discriminatory with who they tried to ‘bring into the fold’ – it could have been that we weren’t ‘the ideal couple’ for their congregation, maybe, probably. But, coincidentally, and possibly, uncomfortably for them, we later rode the same lift with them in a building, way up the other end of town, and again they didn’t ask if we wanted to get to know Jesus.
A few months before this, though, we had people come to our door that wanted us to come to a national religious conference in Melbourne. The air was thick with smoke at the time, and ‘she’ couldn’t see who they were as they spoke at her, even though she told them we wouldn’t be going just at the moment, thank you, because we were about to evacuate with our mentally ill dog. They didn’t seem to hear her, and kept her talking about ‘Javo’s party in Melbourne’, (she told me after they left), oblivious to the obvious. Maybe they were less discriminatory if you were part of a large group. Maybe it was all about numbers. Maybe it was our lovely house with the long driveway and beautiful gardens.
So, we left the park near the Cathedral, and went for our appointment, and I left her for her ‘theatre, bed and breakfast’, and I walked back, in the dark, through the rainy streets of Sydney to my hotel, as the crowds surged in the opposite direction towards the ‘Vivid’ light festival on Sydney Harbour, or in taxis in traffic jams. And, when I got back, I found ‘Jake and the Fat Man’ on TV, and smiled about the pew incident in St Mary’s Cathedral, and was grateful for sanctuary, wherever we find it.