When someone dies, I listen to this. I don't know why. Maybe it's because the pace is contemplative. Maybe it's because the melody is soft and unobtrusive. Maybe it's because grieving love is a lot like grieving death. Maybe it's because I love Mount Moriah and they comfort me. It could be all of the above.
Death is in my world right now. It's never really not, but for our sanity we humans do a pretty good job of ignoring it until it's in our face. Well, death is in my face. There's death in the lives of people I love today. The news was of a color-dimming, world-graying kind. So I listen.
Death was in my world last week when Harris Wittles died. Harris wasn't my friend; I didn't know him personally. But I wish I had. He made me laugh more than I even knew until eulogies from other great comedians began detailing the amazing writing work he'd done for so many projects I enjoyed over the years. He was, by all accounts, a new comedic genius on the cusp. He was only 30, and yet he'd risen to a level most comedic voices would consider a lifetime's worth of achievement.[^1] He was, also by all accounts, an incredibly sweet person with a heart as big as his jokes.[^2]
So death is looming. I didn't expect to be thinking of Harris, someone I never met, a week out from his passing. But I am. On a road trip with a friend and fellow fan this weekend, we talked about Harris. We listened to his Foam Corner, an incredibly funny segment on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast where Harris plumbed anti-comedy and actually came out with comedy gold. Often. Kind of incredible, really. We talked about why we miss this person we didn't know but felt like we did. We grieved him while we laughed.
And that's the beauty of someone like Harris. Scott Aukerman, host of Comedy Bang Bang and longtime friend of Harris, gave his own eulogy before airing Harris' last appearance on the podcast. He talked about one of his last conversations with Harris, in which they discussed the purpose of comedy and the meaning of comedic relief, especially in the face of tragedy. Harris listened to Scott, then said, "Yeah, a lot of people wanna do serious stuff with their comedy, you know, like Louis [C.K.] does with his TV show, but...I just think motherfuckers wanna laugh."
At least in my experience, Harris is spot on. I do wanna laugh. Laughing has always been, for me, one of the most obvious traits of the Divine life, something truly sacred that humanity is lucky enough to participate in. Humor has healed me over and over again, one hilarious layer of scar tissue after another. I didn't laugh when Harris died. I was inexplicably sad. But eventually I laughed, laughed with and at Harris' ridiculousness in life, and I knew grace was with me. Like I said, I feel it's a given that God deals in comedy.
But now new death is in the mix, and I only wish I could find some funny balm to ease that burn. Like Job's friends, I want to do the right thing and say the right words for my friends who are hurting, but that's so rarely of any help. Right now, maybe sitting with death is best. There are times for grief, for laughter, for all things. To everything, turn, turn, turn, the Bible and The Byrds say. So until I can laugh again and feel the new life of God growing from the charred fields of grief, I'll just listen on repeat.