"And in the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." -- Abraham Lincoln
"Amusement may not be the great aim of life, but it gives zest to our days." - P. T. Barnum
"Does humor really have benefits? Who cares? It makes life more enjoyable. The important part of your life is quality not quantity." -- Albert Alter
Albert does know and teach the positive benefits of humor. However, the point he was trying to make is that we don't have to justify humor. It is valuable simply because it improves the quality of life. Humor is important for its own sake.
Early in my clown career I was doing a clown sermon at my home church between circus seasons. Pastor Tom Lange played my straightman partner in the presentation. Afterwards he asked me if I would go to the hospital that afternoon to visit the young son of one of the church members. I had never visited a hospital before as a clown. I did some of my regular routines. A few days later I left to rejoin the circus for a new season. One of the first letters I received was from Pastor Lange informing me that the boy had died the evening after my visit. At first that was hard for me to deal with emotionally. I couldn't understand why he had to die at such a young page. Then a few weeks later I received a letter from the boy's parents. They thanked me for coming to the hospital. They said when they thought of their son one of the first memories that came to mind was his laughter during my performance. They said they would never forget that he enjoyed the last day of his life.
Every year I do a performance on Halloween at the same nursing home. The activity director invites a preschool to bring children to go Trick or Treating in the hall ways, and then the residents and their young guests all gather in the activity room where I perform a show. After the young guests leave, I often go around to the residents and do something like making napkin roses. I know that the beneficial effects of laughter may improve the health of some of the residents and perhaps lengthen their life a little. However, that is not why I am there. I am there helping them to enjoy that one day of their life. The focus at this nursing home is not providing a place where people wait for the last day of their life. The focus is on trying to make sure the residents enjoy each day that they are there. Seeing the preschoolers in their costumes and watching my performance helps the seniors enjoy Halloween. It is not just another day crossed off the calendar.
One year the activity director told me that one of the residents was born on Halloween and turning 90 on the day of my visit. So, I included a little birthday routine in my show in her honor. She told me that she liked cats, so I drew her a trick cartoon of a cat. I put that information on my booking sheet. When I was preparing for my show the next year, I read the note. She was there so I did another cat drawing and wished her a happy birthday. She was amazed that I remembered. I saw her a couple more years after that and she always thanked me for making her birthdays so enjoyable. I like doing birthday parties for kids beginning their life because they enjoy them so much. However, birthday parties at the other end of life are just as important.
Carole and I volunteer to perform at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House. Some of the young residents that we have gotten to know there had lives that were much too short. Some loose their battle with their illness. Some recover and experience a long life. We don't think about that while we are there. We can't predict how long someone's life will be. However, we do focus on helping them enjoy the hour that we spend with them. For a short time they are not patients. They are young people enjoying a clown performance. It is great watching them smile, laugh, and tell Charlie he is doing things wrong. It is also great looking at the enjoyment on the faces of their parents as well. No matter how many days they have, they enjoyed that specific day. Clowning is important for that reason alone.