A friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy now. I can remember when that was I, in 2006. Before I became a cancer patient, I had trained as a psycho-oncologist, i.e., a cancer psychologist, so I already knew quite a bit about the lay of the land.
In particular, Dr. William Breitbart and I developed a new kind of group therapy, we called it Meaning-Centered Group Psychotherapy, and we derived a number of its basic tenets from the work of Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl, the Auschwitz survivor who wrote the international bestseller Man's Search for Meaning, and many other books and papers. What finding meaning boiled down to, for Frankl, was our work, our causes, our loves, the way we found beauty and humor in the world, and, no matter how much of those we could or couldn't do, we had our attitudes.
When I got sick, it was time to put my money where my mouth was, and, in fact, I did find my previous work to have been a great help in my own coping. But perhaps the single most important element came as a surprise. People sent me jokes, and they made me laugh (when they made me laugh) and when they made me laugh, they made me feel strong. When I found any particularly funny, I passed them on. Soon, others were filtering only the funniest jokes for me, and I became known as someone with the best internet jokes (let's face it, finding funnies that are actually funny is like shopping at Loehman's for that perfect dress; sure, you might find something fabulous at some point, but, oh, so much crap). As one friend said, "Hey, you get cancer, and I get to laugh every day. Doesn't quite feel fair!" I've written about the psychology of the humor process before - here and here.
But today is not the day for that. Today is the day to help all my friends—flesh and virtual—who need a smile to get through the day. So, for the next month, I will post a daily smile - it might be a joke or a story, or just an amazing picture of the glories of nature, because it's important to remember that even when the world sucks—and, oh, it can suck, sometimes— there's always at least some small corner of it that's beautiful.
Today's smile of the day:
Subject: Literary Analogies & Metaphors
Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are the winners from a few years ago.
1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.
18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Harry. But unlike Harry, this plan just might work.
21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
If anything made you smile, please pay it forward.
Tune back tomorrow for the next smile of the day.
Click here for my book (one of O: The Oprah Magazine's 10 Titles to Pick Up in May; with Foreword by New York Times columnist David Brooks): The House on Crash Corner and Other Unavoidable Calamities—about the sad, hilarious and meaningful ways we deal with the crises in our lives.