My older brother used to take me to the park when I was a kid. He tried to teach me how to play tennis. When he’d hit the ball over to me, I was lucky if my seven-year-old body could return his twenty-nine year old serve, even if he was easy on me.
And on this one day, a sunny day, I waited with racket in hand, careful of the players we shared the court with, since I had let a few balls fly past me onto their side. My eye caught an older gentlemen: elegant man, dressed in white shorts, shirt, and headband to match. My brother served another ball to me, but as I turned my head, I saw the man clothed in white elegance lunge forward in slow motion, and then he hit the pavement and tumbled quickly. Slow motion turned to uncontrollable giggles and squirming and my eyes upon this man—all of my attention held by this act of vulnerability. My brother ran around to my side of the net and scolded me good. The man got up, scrapes on his knees. He dusted himself off, and came towards us as my brother apologized profusely for my behavior. The man reached down, gave me a pat on the head and said, “it’s ok.” Relief. There were a few more times, though, that I would replay the incident in my head, and I would almost lose it, but my brother from far beyond the net, detected it and just shook his head and gave me a stern look. It worked.
I don’t know what it is—the honesty of such a moment or the laughter that makes the comfortable bearable. Even today, I must confess, these moments still occur. I know it’s not nice to laugh at people who fall or trip, but there is something tangible and absurd about having clumsy moments. And it’s these little foibles, the ones where no one gets hurt, that add to the humanness in us: The ability to laugh at ourselves.