My father told me a story when I was little about an old man who had a hard life.
There was an old man who lived in a hut by the sea. He was very poor. One of his few possessions was a fishing rod, which he used to fish for food.
The old man walked to town every morning, hauling heavy baskets of grain over his shoulder to sell in the market. The only luxury the old man could afford was to buy a lottery ticket every week.
One day, the old man checked the board in the public square. He looked in disbelief because he realized that he had the winning numbers.
He got so excited that he dropped his grain and ran all the way home. He was jumping and kicking his legs together… And then he took his fishing rod and threw it out to sea because he didn’t need it anymore.
He kept his lottery ticket in the fishing rod.
My dad was slapping his knee in a fit of laughter.
This story actually made me feel very sad and almost made me want to cry.
I asked him, “Why is this funny?”
My father said, “Because… because it’s irony!”
Later, I realized why my dad thought this story was funny. He had had a hard life, too. He had seen war. His younger brothers were tortured and put into re-education camps. His mother passed away soon after he left his hometown as a teenager to look for a safe place for them to stay. His brothers were turned into peasants, smoked several packs of cigarettes a day, were skinny and looked old. My father was much luckier and eventually came to America and became a history professor.
I think my father found humor in tragedy because he saw that life can be unpredictable. No matter how much you may wish for something or strive for good things or how hard you may work, sometimes unexpected and even bad things happen. He liked to say to me, “Don’t expect success. When you do something, it should be without regard to success or failure.” I suppose the story was also a lesson on being overcome by one’s emotions.
To be honest, to this day, I don’t find this story to be very funny, but I still love it.