Many people today are finding it ever more difficult to see the humorous and fun in every day life, besieged as we are by dire predictions and the sensational and emotionally driven content of our “news” sources. Thus, this is a perfect time to introduce Bill Thetford, co-scribe of A Course In Miracles, without doubt one of the funniest and wittiest human beings in my long experience.
We have heard from many sources that laughter is the best medicine, but that clearly depends. Some laughter is a defense against situations that might require our “getting real,” or an inappropriate response to a difficult situation, or a thinly-disguised cover for a put-down. Since egos want to be taken seriously, nothing is so humiliating as being the brunt of a joke, of having our words or actions worthy only of demeaning laughter.
On the other hand, Bill Thetford, co-scribe of A Course In Miracles, with sparkling wit and a bit of the mischief-maker, was masterful at using laughter in the most effective, kindly, and healing way, both for himself and everyone around. If ever there was one who learned to joke about the absurdity of the human condition, it was Bill. He was graced with a superb sense of humor, delighting in the antics, large and small, of both himself and his fellow human beings. A prayer in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church begins, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, . . .” Bill was a mortal version of that omniscience; for him his fellow man was deeply transparent, an open book – and often a comic book. Nothing was too sacred or ominous for his lighthearted touch, his hallmark as he saw the comedy in the ego’s serious postures. He laughed not at people, however, but at our treasured notions, beliefs, and practiced self-deceptions.
Bill was brilliant and famous in his field of research psychology even before the Course became the centerpiece of his life. He carried out his myriad duties with prodigious industry and careful attention to detail, but no matter how diligently he approached his work at Columbia University, he also found it amusing. Without exception, all who knew him commented on his marvelous sense of humor and its profound effect; it was one of his ways of loving.
He had his own issues, of course, times that seemed depressing or fraught with difficulty, but sooner or later, his emotional equilibrium would be restored, the twinkle returning to his eye as he told his hilarious stories. When we can laugh at the dramas, the formerly unhappy circumstances in our lives, we know they are healed. With a rigid, humorless approach to any aspect of our lives, we still have work to do. Bill’s droll sense of humor pervaded his life and is the single characteristic I believe he would most want remembered.
Those of us who knew Bill can remember hilarious times with him, where we all laughed until we cried. One of his favorite early Course stories, told with kindhearted laughter, was about a gentleman who discovered his address in Manhattan and came knocking on his door. When Bill answered, the man earnestly announced that he was a new ACIM student and that the Holy Spirit told him to find Bill and ask him for $10,000. Without missing a beat, Bill responded that the Holy Spirit had already alerted him to this request and indicated he was not to give it to him. I can still see Bill’s delighted smile as he recounted such entertaining tales about humankind in general and Course-related drama in particular. He often said he thought he should write a book entitled A Course In Miracles Follies about the craziness that occurred while bringing this material into the world, as well as some of the strange ideas and misperceptions that have been perpetuated in its name. To his credit, he found these occurrences amusing rather than alarming, and we would all benefit from emulating his open-hearted approach.
Bill also recounted endless funny stories from his Columbia University days. For instance, he delighted to talk about being co-editor of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology from 1965-1971, the years of Course dictation. He periodically rejected articles that were “not sufficiently scientific,” and, of course, found this situation ridiculous and very humorous, given the teachings of non-duality in which he was secretly involved!
To experience life with richness and delight requires witnessing our circumstances as well as participating in them – in effect, not taking ourselves so seriously. Egos want to be important and see lightheartedness as a threat. Bill modeled that perfect balance between levity and honoring one’s worldly commitments to the fullest. He ended many a conversation with a twinkle in his eye, saying “I know it’s hopeless, just not serious.” He could see the agony and the glory of the human experience and smile at it all. He did not laugh at those who came to him for help, but was always able to offer those even in greatest distress a way to see their situation with a lighter heart.
Bill came to an awakened state by the end of his life. His joy and sense of humor increased exponentially until he could hardly keep his feet on the ground, quite literally. And how might we find that, despite the ways things look now, they can always resolve into a surprisingly satisfactory state? Like Bill, we can practice letting go of the judgments that weigh us down, that cause a clouded, limited, and somber experience of life. One day at at time, Bill chose to let go of grievances and asked for help in so doing. We automatically become more lighthearted and friendly, and life becomes richer and more fun, when our minds are cleared of the debris of fear and all that we hold against ourselves and others.
How dearly we would love to have Bill with us today (actually, I’m sure he’s right here!), leading the way in seeing the craziness of our current times as worthy of a huge smile, and not despair. Though it may seem a daunting task, we too can treat ourselves and others with more compassion, and following in Bill’s steady footsteps, find ourselves in the glorious state of being awake to the truth of our being – the single most fun and most helpful offering we bring to the world.
Written By Carol Howe
Carol Howe is one of the original and most experienced teachers of A Course In Miracles. A personal friend of co-scribe Bill Thetford, she wrote his biography, Never Forget To Laugh, and is also the author of Healing The Hurt Behind Addictions. Throughout her 40 year career with ACIM, she has helped many thousands on their journey to inner peace.