What was the Buddha laughing at anyway?

There is nothing in this world more precious than a well-timed fart joke.

Let me quickly tell you why lest I anger the deities of high comedy with my impudence.

On July 13th of this year, in the midst of my husband’s final days, as he began the It Really Is Happening, NOW part of dying, an adorable penguin whom I had loved with a passion like the heat of a thousand stars, woke up from a very, very long nap.

That day, after twenty-five years, Berkeley Breathed revived his comic strip Bloom County via his Facebook page. Evidently, the most popular comment in response was, “And suddenly the world is back in alignment. Thank you Sir.” That is exactly how I felt.

I don’t know if it’s ever fully possible to describe the experience of helping someone die. It is its own kind of midwifery, an attendance to the needs of someone who is returning back to the life they had before birth. Everything that feels familiar or normal or regular gets turned in for massive uncertainty and often confusion. Luckily the demands of the moment kept me focused and my intuition was strong. But I felt completely untethered most of the time.

But then Opus came back. And I felt some context to our lives was restored.

I think I read the strip eleventy-gazillion times. I could feel my entire body relax every time I did. I don’t know what surprised me more, that I could feel so elated in the midst of such deep suffering, or that something so fortuitous and lovely was actually happening in real time. I cried big fat happy tears sitting there at my computer, tears that pressed themselves out of me like I had literally sprung a leak. Tears that had been released from their holding pen awaiting that stray moment when I returned to my heart’s deepest center, thoroughly full of wonder.

I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.

I immediately got my hands one of the old compilations so I could read it from the beginning to 11 and 13. It was a freaking miracle! What better way to invoke the spirit of silliness and fun during such a dire time, than by reading a comic strip that took its duty to lampoon institutions, icons, and pop culture very very seriously?

One thing about wearing the three-cornered hat of helping my husband die, trying to help my kids through it, and trying to remember to stay alive myself, is that the sacrilegious became even more thoroughly appealing. It was a way to shout, “Hey! Death! Over here (*flips Death the bird on both hands)! You don’t scare me, Asshole (*moons Death)!

And that is why I speak to you about the laughing off of our butts at bodily functions. This is the strip I’m talking about. Go read it and come back, I’ll wait. (Besides I don’t know how to insert it here without violating copyright laws).

Courtesy Berkeley Breathed

Now tell me that we don’t live in an abundant and benevolent Universe. I dare you.

Returning to Bloom County has been an absolute balm to my soul, shaken as I was watching my children’s hero dying a painful death. The strip reminds me daily that we are all born, we all must die, and in between we will definitely fart in yoga class. At least once.

But here is the best part! In October, Fresh Air interviewed Berkeley Breathed. I learned a lot about him that I didn’t know, including that Harper Lee herself wrote him a letter years ago pleading with him not to end the strip. She asked him not to “shut down Opus,” and to please “give him a reprieve”. It was this summer’s release of Go Set A Watchman, in which Atticus Finch was recast as racist, that stirred him to act. ( “I watched slack-jawed in horror, as they threw one of the 20th Century’s most iconic fictional heroes…under the bus”). Twelve years old when Mr. Breathed read To Kill A Mockingbird, it influenced Bloom County thoroughly and deeply. And he said that the convergence of his memory of Harper Lee demanding that he not kill off one of her favorite characters with the publication of a manuscript that essentially, for him, did the same, was one of those “little pitches” sent by the Universe that you have to try to be awake enough not to miss.

And so, Bloom County redux.

Thank you, Mr. Breathed. Thank you so very damn much for not missing the pitch, and for taking a swing. It was on day two of the new strip that I let it sink in that it was real, the strip was really really back. That perhaps magical good things were happening still. That it was not only still okay to laugh, but that silliness itself might actually be a requirement for the spiritual evolution of all sentient beings.

I caught myself sighing the hugest, longest sigh. I felt…..relief. How unexpected, how dim my own memory of that feeling.

Yet sighed relief I did. Sighed it, or even breathed it out maybe.

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