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The Sixth Sense

“Life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around you.” – Mel Brooks

“I have always been a huge admirer of my own work. I’m one of the funniest and most entertaining writers I know.” – Mel Brooks (presumably commenting on the first quotation)

Learning about human perception involves learning the “five senses:” sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. From a young age we are taught that each sense allows us to appreciate the world in a different way, and that we ought not to take these such perception for granted. Each of our senses adds a certain je ne sais quoi to our world, contributing flavors, colors, or melodies to our day, nourishing our souls. Together, our senses allow us to understand and appreciate differences in small details. They make each moment different from the last, allowing us to perceive and appreciate life’s many beauties. It is the variation that makes life so exciting.

In quarantine, what we see, smell, taste, touch and hear can be redundant. I, for instance, have cooked the same eggs with onion and spinach for breakfast each day. My gastronomical variation comes only when I occasionally replace the spinach with broccoli. The birds can always lift my mood on sunny days, but after listening to them carefully enjoying each note of their improvisational symphonies, even their melodies sound redundant. And, I love seeing trees blossom and flowers bloom in the early summer warmth, but after walking past the same tree multiple times each day, its beauty becomes less impressive. I have realized that beauty exists in impermanence, and our five senses allow us to preserve such Wabi-sabi in our memory, making what Robert Frost describes as “Nature’s First Green” last just a bit longer.

With quarantine, however, this process breaks down. The impermanence switches from being our surroundings to being our lifestyles. Instead of needing ways to appreciate the beauty of the universe around us, we need ways to appreciate the universe of our own lives. While our five traditional senses allow us to preserve that which surrounds us, we need to turn to a different sense to appreciate our own lives during quarantine, granting us the ability to shine a light on each moment, turning dull moments into joyful ones. The sense that we need is a sense of humor.

It is difficult to find reasons to laugh, especially during times when the world seems bleak, but it is during these times that our sense of humor has the most potential. Laughter is a prism that refracts the typical grayness of the world into a myriad of different colors eliciting a sense of joy that can only be expressed through the whimsical melodies of our laughter. (Have you ever listened to your own laughter, and pondered where it came from and what it says about you, or, have you ever considered what you find funny and why?)

Laughter is like our fingerprint, as it is part of what makes us unique. Laughter heals. If social distancing and quarantining create distress, then laughter is medicine. Laughter uplifts. If one seeks to momentarily escape their existing environment and give themselves a break, then laughter is an instant vacation. Laughter spreads. If one seeks to bring happiness to others, then laughter is the harbinger of smiles. And, smiles are contagious. They send energy to those around us, lighting up their worlds just as our smile lights up our own. When our typical senses struggle to help us make life special, we must turn to our sixth sense, our sense of humor to do so. Channeling this sixth sense begins by asking ourselves “what has made me laugh recently, and who have I made laugh recently?” Send your answers to carlins101@gmail.com. I am curious!

Andrew Carlins

Andrew Carlins is a T’21 Undergraduate and has participated in Duke Engage Dublin and Citizenship Lab with the Institute. 

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