Two Men Go For A Walk In The Woods

This joke came to mind when I was trying to come up with something to write about. Here it is…

Two friends go for a walk in the woods. At one point they spot a hungry grizzly bear charging down the mountain from above them. One guy reaches into his pack, produces a pair of running shoes and begins quickly getting into them. His friend points out, do you actually think you can outrun that bear? He looks back at his friend and says, I just have to outrun you.

This joke is funny on several levels.

First, the idea that as Death in the shape of a grizzly is bolting down a mountain, yet time seems to freeze long enough for us to fully enjoy the interaction as the two men discuss the logic of one man’s actions. Jokes often share this. Somewhere high above this mountain an airplane carrying a rabbi, an attorney, a Catholic priest and a troop of Boy Scouts is in a nose dive as a similar calm, rational exchange is taking place. Leaving us with a punchline that forever holds off the inevitable fiery crash.

Second, at the moment of death, one of these men is going to take valuable time to point out the futility in the actions of his friend.

Third, that the friend is ridiculously prepared for this event almost as if he predicted it and made his life decision based on sizing up the athletic vulnerability of his friend.

Fourth, of course, is the revealed truth that in our moments of desperation we are likely to betray even our best friendships to stay out of Death’s jaws a day longer. Another joke has a two friends getting robbed at gunpoint as one makes a point of pulling a bill from his wallet and handing it to his friend instead of the robber: Here’s that $100 I borrowed last month.

Fifth, this is funny because of the unvarnished honesty that will surely strike the less prepared man by surprise. Some punch lines are almost literally that – a phrase that mercilessly delivers a wallop to an unwitting victim.

But the joke has to stop just before the impending fall. If we add one more sentence, we ruin the joke. If we say: “And the bear caught him and slowly dined on his entrails as he lay on the brittle pine needles until he faded from blood loss with the stink of the bear’s breath as his last living experience.” it stops being funny.

That ruins the joke. It has to end with the joke’s audience themselves providing the look on the man’s face as his friend gives his laces one last cinch and delivers the last bit of harshly honest feedback the man will ever hear.

Maybe this is what makes us laugh as well. Maybe we go through life with those closest to us – mom, dad, our friend whom we hike with – telling us little lies. Or, more likely omitting the truth or smoothing off any uncomfortable edges that the truth might have.

Is it humorous that the friend’s last human exchange will be so coldly delivered, honest and unvarnished and ultimately fatal?

Is it funny that Death itself will laugh loudest at the punchline delivered to our hiker? It does raise the stakes much higher than a simple slip on the pavement which we are sure to laugh at as well. His immediate and harsh understanding of the understated news that time is limited and his is in particular, is somehow preposterous.

Is it funny that we’re all running away from Death – running against the wind, as Bob Seger would sing?

Maybe it’s funny because we all know that eventually the bear is going to catch us. What will be the look on our face as our friend delivers the news?

This week I had an argument with a friend about the host of a podcast that is one of my current addictions. The host is a little like Trump in that he seems to divide people, though, unlike Trump, perhaps – not intentionally.

He’s a genius. He’s an idiot.

So, here we were having this conversation as we walked through the woods. And maybe we attracted the attention of a predator. I argue with my friend that it’s not about whether or not a healthy twenty-year-old should get a shot. It’s about respecting people with whom we might disagree, and listening rather than trying to convince. Each of us lined up our arguments and talked past each other – loud enough for something hiding in the forest to wake up.

I think we both thought we were carrying a pair of running shoes in our backpack.

In any case, whatever we were discussing is of little importance relative to the speed at which the grizzly is charging at us. I think both of us are the types to be aware that the grizzly is out there. And, to be honest I think it’s been on our minds more and more.

My friend said I was spending too much energy defending the podcaster. Maybe I was. It’s like me to think I’m enjoying a spirited debate when, to others in the room I’m coming off more like a bully.

Maybe I was taking our exchange too seriously. Maybe I was lacing up my running shoes at my friend’s expense.

I don’t listen to Rogan because of his sage medical advice. I don’t listen to Rogan to know how to vote. I listen to Rogan to learn how to listen better, with respect, with kindness and with good will.

I want to fight the base animal instinct that finds its way into human friendships to outrun our friends when the inevitable approaches us; I want to face the bear with my friends and fight it off.