“Salander had no faith in herself. Blomkvist lived in a world populated by people with respectable jobs, people with orderly lives, and lots of grown-up points. His friends did things, went on TV, and shaped headlines. What do you need me for? Salander’s greatest fear, which was so huge and so black that is was of phobic proportions, was that people would laugh at her feelings. And all of a sudden all her carefully constructed self-confidence seemed to crumble.”
I read some books over Yom Tov that were extremely human in nature. The first was Tinkers by Paul Harding; the second was The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Somehow, in the course of reading the books and thinking about myself, I came to realize that all of us share a common fear: laughter.
It is not just any laughter that we fear. It is the laughter of mockers, of scoffers, the laughter that tears us down and makes us feel small.
When someone is righteously angry and indignant, we may disagree with them, but in the end of the day they still showed us respect. Whatever it was that we said infuriated them, but they took us seriously. Indeed, the reason they became so upset was because they feel like whatever we said or thought is so very dangerous. But when someone dismisses you out of hand and laughs at your ideas, then that person is saying they don't need to take you seriously at all.
What was interesting to me was the realization that everyone fears this. In fashion magazines, the fashion faux pas section can do a lot of damage. An actress who is otherwise respected who steps outside in an outfit that others find laughable can have her style and fashion sense destroyed. In America, someone who is seen believing in something that is understood to be outmoded, outdated or otherwise uncool is an object of scorn. When children get stage fright, at heart is the fear that they will fail to perform to standard and that everyone will laugh at them.
In Judaism, we call this harmful laughter and scoffing ליצנות/ Leitzanus. On Yom Kippur, when we say Viddui, one of the sins we mention is this-that we have laughed in this way. This laughter is damaging, because it harms people and people's ability to try harder, to become better, to be someone who they weren't before and who they are trying to be.
I think part of the reason that it's so hard to be actively religious in America is because there are people we respect and who we wish to respect us in return, and we can't bear the thought that they might secretly laugh at us. Whether it's our garb that they find outdated, or the mechitza in shul, the fact is that they will laugh and take us less seriously, and our fragile, exquisitely human selves find that so hard to bear. It is much easier to debate my ideals if you take them seriously than it is to defend them against someone who says, with a laugh, "But you don't really believe that, now, do you?"
I've been realizing of late that I don't share as much of myself as I did, and that the reason this is so is because I, too, don't wish to be laughed at. I feel like if I were to tell people about what moves me, what troubles me, what makes me feel and think and see the world as a more vibrant place, they would look askance at me. I know that's not the way it should be, but at least for now, that's the way it is.
I believe this is also part of the reason that I get on so well with children, especially bright children- because they haven't learned to laugh yet. If I am excited about a book, or animated about a cause, or believe in fairy tales and magic, they have that wonder in their eyes as well. And when I see their eyes darken with that hard sheen that tells me that they too, have learned to laugh, I retreat, because I have no weapon against that. You can hurt me- I cannot hurt you- all I can do is fall back.
This is why I trust God more than I trust people. I know that God loves me and I know that He appreciates my wonder. He knows my many loves and He knows the small things that touch me and He knows my motives. I am afraid of the world because it can hurt me, but I am not afraid of God, because even when He hurts me, I know He will show me one day that it was an important step on my journey. I know He sheds tears for me. I know He never laughs.