In Musing: The wisdom of foolish folly

CAROLE VASTA FOLLEY

I played a fool once. Professionally. To be fair, I have plenty of amateur experience as well. Thus, I feel foolish enough to expound on April Fools’ Day, a day possibly inspired by Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” It could also derive from the ancient festival of Hilaria, a feast the Romans took from the Greeks, perhaps foolishly, for beyond the general rejoicing, there were the not so humorous public sacrifices.

Personally, I don’t understand why Fools’ Day pranks are effective in the first place. Doesn’t it remove the element of surprise, the best part of fooling someone, when we announce on the calendar, “This is when I will fool you?” That day, one can be sure when their spoon dips into the sugar bowl, their coffee will taste briny. And, no need to wonder if there’s a sign on your posterior when you feel an occasional boot. All in good fun, I’m sure. But I prefer the time-honored role of the fool. The one that requires thoughtfulness and the unlikely combination of humility and chutzpah.

Shakespeare understood the fool best. He used the character to speak truth and insight with wit and humor. Longtime Mensa member and prolific author Issac Asimov said, “That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.”

My sole professional fool playing began when I was cast as one of the bard’s best, the Fool in “King Lear,” even though I desperately wanted to be one of the daughters. But alas, I was the Fool, costumed in rags adorned with animal parts and bells. While spouting couplets, I roamed the stage dragging my left leg. Glamorous, it was not. But, I quickly learned the task of the actor who plays the fool is a mighty one. A complex character who uses irony and sarcasm to be his king’s conscience and protector, the role is not to be taken lightly. It introduced me to the idea that the fool is often the wisest one in the room.

Many a fool will dare to make fun of themselves to the delight of others. While providing levity is its own reward, it’s also respite from difficult conversations, unity through shared laughter, and sometimes, the art of how to mention the unmentionable. That fool is no fool at all.

There are times where we humans are just foolish. Like when I accidentally lit my hair on fire at a fancy restaurant when meeting my boyfriend’s family. Or the time I shut my own head in the car door. Or when I was locked out of my vehicle because my electronic key fob didn’t work. A situation embarrassingly solved when the dealership reminded me there was an actual key in that thing. I could go on, including the four other times my hair was on fire. Suffice it to say, the cringeworthy list continues. And will. After all, we are human and in that description alone comes folly.

I like the Tarot meaning of Fool. The card shows a blissful traveler seemingly about to walk off a cliff. It can represent joy while letting go of fear. Symbolizing new beginnings and spontaneity, it’s a seize-the-day kind of message with reminders of free will and consequence. Hardly foolish. It’s an openheartedness, childlike spirit, we could all use even on our better days.

It’s funny that a common human fear is being considered foolish, when in fact it can actually make a difference in our world. Like being willing to laugh at yourself in public because, seriously, most things are not that important.

Perhaps, like me, you’ll just bumble yourself into being foolish. No matter. As Shakespeare wrote, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Carole Vasta Folley is an award-winning Vermont playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.

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