At the end of the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” Ethel Merman (playing her usual role, a loudmouthed nag) slips on a banana peel. The entire cast bursts into laughter. But the beauty of the scene is the state of those characters — they have been through unimaginable awfulness. They are bandaged, their limbs in casts, their marriages frayed, their careers at an end. And they laugh. Because what else is there left to do?

The scene is a metaphor my brother used recently in summing up what keeps him going. It was an extraordinarily bad week for his family, and his usual sunny disposition had cracked under the pressure. He had every right to throw in the towel, but he didn’t. He took a deep breath and pictured Ethel Merman slipping on a banana peel. In the midst of our greatest darkness, there is a ray of light. We just have to find it.

My personal perk-me-ups come from literature. I am terribly fond of this line from Joan Didion’s Democracy: “I’d be leery of those ice cubes if I were you, Frances. Ice cubes are not a national craft.” You have to know the context, of course, but it always makes me smile. As does the word “grape.” (Ellen Raskin fans will know why.) Sometimes I think God gave the author her entire oeuvre just so I could yell, “Grape Mrs. Carillon!” when necessary.

Oxymoronically, these “banana slip” moments don’t happen by accident. I truly believe the hand of God is in them, providing us with a glimpse of absurdity so as to leaven the loaf/load. It is when we fail to see these glimmers and allow ourselves to plunge into darkness that we have a real problem.

This is increasingly easy to do in a world that seems overrun by greed, lies, violence and terror. So I am suggesting this: Arm yourself in advance. Find your Ethel Merman moment and hold onto it. Then, when the chips are down, you have something to bring you back from the brink.

Of course, prayer does this marvelously well, too. But it’s nice to have options.

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