Don't be ridiculous!

Don't be ridiculous!

Many years later, when I became a professor in a medical school and used poetry to teach the symptoms of syphilis, I got the same reactions.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I’ve been hearing this reprimand from when I was a young kid. And I’ve never really understood it. Who sets the standards? Who decides what is acceptable and what isn’t? I’ve always found the ridiculous more interesting than the mundane. And I agree completely with Marilyn Monroe when she said, “it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring!”

The noticed the use of the statement in school. It was a warm, beautiful day and we were cramped together in a stuffy classroom, learning Pythagoras or Trigonometry or some equally unnecessary theorem. I could hear the birds chirping outside and a gentle breeze wafting in through the window. I was lost in my own thoughts, when suddenly I heard the teacher’s harsh baritone interrupt my reverie. “Yes young man, could you repeat what I just said?” I tried mumbling something that resembled, “I wandered lonely as a cloud, That floats on high o’er vales and hills,” but was rudely stopped by the teacher “don’t be ridiculous! Why would I teach you Wordsworth in a Math class!”

Why couldn’t Mathematics include nature? The Fibonacci numbers are reflected in the arrangement of petals on flowers and leaves in trees. The ridiculous is often quite sublime. One just has to search for the connections and allow for a little lateral thinking.

Many years later, when I became a professor in a medical school and used poetry to teach the symptoms of syphilis, I got the same reactions. “You’re going from bad to ‘verse’!” And yet the story of a young lorry driver with an STD, told in ridiculous rhyme helped me and my students to remember the many details of a complicated disease.

Fast forward to the present. As I inched towards my mid-life crisis, I found myself drawn back to theatre and improv comedy. “Doctor, is that really you? I never knew doctors could do anything else. Aren’t you afraid people will find you ridiculous?”  Another futile attempt at defining the rules of life—for someone else. “Not at all,” I replied, suppressing a smile, “after all, isn’t laughter the best medicine ?”

Just the other day my son was walking around the house listening to some loud Ariana Grande rant on his phone.

I felt the immense parental need to interrupt and suggest some soothing ghazal instead. I managed to hold myself back just in time and turned away abruptly. I bumped into my wife as she came out of the kitchen, and confessed to what I had been about to do.

She laughed out loud at my naivete and returned to the kitchen muttering “You seriously expected him to like your music? Don’t be ridiculous !”