When The Deep Purple Falls

In Case you’re wondering about my topic for this Christmas-Chanukah week, I’d like to make the Case for writing about something not necessarily related to the holidays. Having carefully Cased out a number of potential subjects, I decided to go with a unique one, just in Case you wanted something a little different.

Yes, astute readers, you probably already know that my topic is about A Case. No, not A Depressing Homicide Case nor even A Refreshing Case of Beer. And this English professor would never let himself be accused of writing about the grammatical nominative or accusative cases during such a festive week. In fact, my topic this morning is a cheery but misnamed one: A Bad Case Of The Giggles.

It’s obviously a cheery topic. Who of us does not fondly remember cementing a childhood friendship with a pal by giggling uncontrollably and in unison at some person or incident that we found equally ridiculous. This was a delightful way to bond over an exclusive shared sense of the ludicrous. But “a bad case of the giggles” is a misnomer because all cases of giggling are good ones — only the timing can be really awkward and thus bad.

I shall use my silly seventh-grade self as Exhibit A for the glory and inappropriateness of the giggles. It all began with the brilliant play The Miracle Worker which was in our seventh grade American Literature anthology. The most famous scene is when the blind and deaf Helen Keller finally understands that the water pouring over her hands from a pump symbolizes the signals that Annie Sullivan is frantically tapping on Helen’s wrist. This revelation opens up a whole world of learning to Helen and even opened up the seemingly blasé hearts of us twelve year old students in that English class.

The problem was that we were being taught that play by a student teacher who was visiting for eight weeks. She was young, pretty, petite, and prepared. But she was also enthralled by Helen Keller, whom she’d actually met at an American Foundation for the Blind fundraiser luncheon when she was a high school essay winner. Her personal anecdote about meeting the great woman was indeed uplifting.

But she was so gaga about Ms. Keller that every day, without fail, when teaching the play she’d suddenly pause, look at us intently and exclaim: “Class, just think. She had to hear and see with her hands, not with her ears nor eyes (here she mimed huge hands-ears-eyes gestures) BUT WITH HER HANDS, CLASS, HER HANDS!” This in itself was not giggle-inducing —merely repetitive and way too loud.

Sitting next to me in class, in the tiny back row comprised of just us two, was our class cynic and wit, Marti. Her dad had just ended his term as Indiana’s governor. Marti claimed she had been taken prisoner in the stiflingly proper governor’s mansion for the last four years, and so she was just itching to slaughter a sacred cow or two. And as far as Marti was concerned, the way our student teacher worshiped Helen Keller, she had turned that lady into such a sacred cow that her first name might as well have been Elsie or Buttercup.

And so one morning when we had yet again been commanded to think about Helen listening — WITH HER HANDS! — Marti caught my attention, rolled her eyes, and passed me a note which read: “Why were Helen Keller’s hands purple?”

I thought and thought but could only grin and shrug. Back came a second note: “Because she heard it through the grapevine.”

I looked at her gleefully and tried to stifle a flood of laughter which then prompted both of us to attempt to hold back a raging river of giggles but instead dissolved us into fits of sniggers, snorts, tears, and cascades of more giggling. Thank the Lord the bell then rang, ending the period. By this point, we not only were done in and wrung out by undiluted delight, but, in league with my water imagery above, we also were in desperate need of the boys’ and girls’ johns. 

For me, that episode was a moment of pure, unexpected joy, greatly heightened by sharing it with another. This holiday week we celebrate such a different joy, given as a gift to the Christian and Jewish worlds through the birth of a Savior and through the Maccabean victory over Antiochus IV, allowing Jews to reconsecrate their defiled Temple of Jerusalem.

The holiday gifts that we now give to each other remind us that joy must be shared, as mine was with Marti. I hope I’ve made my case that even an immature giggle-fest can be an unforgettable communion. It was hardly the divine communion of religion nor that world-opening communion between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. But it still was one of pure joy.

And so I shall argue my point no further and simply end with two directives: “Happy Holidays!” and…“Case Closed!”



Elliot writes:

We received so many fine entries for our “Name My Essay”  contest—34 to be exact. And we were amazed that nine of you urged us to retain our “In Plain Engel-ish” titIe — seven of you using the charming “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” cliche.  We have decided to obey.

Let me honorably mention that I have awarded two Most Honorable Mentions:
Liame Mills for “The Engel Angle”
Edward Burke for “Elli-grams”

Just so I could have the final word, I created a challenge for myself. Could I devise  the worst haiku in history on this same essay theme? Remember — a haiku is three lines total, five syllables in the first and third lines, seven in the middle line. I added the feature of excruciating end-line rhymes.

E’s Essays-Mini
Both in which and wherein he
Causes some  grinnies

Tah! Dah!

Do let us know of your own youthful or even recent giggle-fest and/or your reaction to our contest “winner.”

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