Author Deepak Chopra uses the fictional story of a comedian and his mentor to illustrate the journey to joy and happiness.
In "Why Is God Laughing?" Chopra writes about Mickey Fellows, a successful Los Angeles comic who meets a mysterious stranger following his father's death.
Read an excerpt of the book below.
Grace shines like a sliver of light. It penetrates the universe, undeterred by distance or darkness. You won't see it, but it knows where it is going. At any moment someone may be touched by its mysterious power.
Even Mickey Fellows.
On this particular day Mickey was speeding through the Valley in his black Cadillac Escalade, keeping half an eye out for police. The L.A. sun glared off the freeway, but for Mickey, sitting behind his tinted windows and wraparound shades, it could have been twilight.
"Say that again," he muttered into his cell phone.
"The club owners aren't happy. They say the new material isn't funny. They want the old Mickey back." It was Alicia, his agent.
"Screw 'em. They should kiss my derriere that I even bother to show up."
Mickey Fellows had movie offers from two studios. His last divorce had made the cover of People magazine. The only reason he worked the comedy clubs at all was to keep his feel for the audience.
Alicia didn't back down. "You don't want to play it that way. You may need those clubs some day."
"God forbid." Mickey lit up another menthol Merit.
God has the advantage of witnessing every lifetime at once, erasing all differences. If you could look down on the human race from an infinite distance, you'd see Everyman was on the freeway that day. Like the rest of us, Mickey gave little thought to his soul. He didn't want to face painful truths, so he managed to distract himself almost every waking hour.
At this moment, Mickey figured it was time for a laugh. "I've got a good one for you," he told his agent.
"My grandfather's eighty years old, and he still has sex almost every day. He almost had it on Monday, he almost had it on Tuesday, he almost had it on Wednesday."
Alicia was silent.
"I think I have another call coming in," said Mickey.
"No, you don't."
"I'm not kidding this time," Mickey said. "Hold on." He pushed a button. "Hello?"
"Is this Michael Fellows?"
"Who wants to know?" Strangers were always getting his number.
"I'm calling from Cedars-Sinai Hospital."
Mickey felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck. He gripped the wheel tighter.
"Yes?" In the few seconds between an impending disaster and its crash to earth, an amazing number of thoughts can race through your mind. Mickey saw himself at his annual physical the week before. His wife's face flashed before him, as clearly as if they hadn't been divorced for five years. Cancer, AIDS, car accident. Fate's wheel was spinning, and the arrow was about to stop.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fellows. It's your father."
"Did he fall? Someone's supposed to be watching him," Mickey said. He had hired a full-time housekeeper for his father, a placid Guatemalan lady who knew little English.
"Your father got the best care in the ER. Everything possible was done to revive him, but he couldn't be saved."
Mickey didn't hear those last words. As soon as the voice said "everything possible was done," a roar in Mickey's ears drowned out everything else.
"When did he die?"
The voice on the phone, a woman's and probably a nurse, started to explain, but the roar kept blocking it out.
"Wait a second," said Mickey, pulling off onto the shoulder of the road. He breathed deeply, and shook his head, like a swimmer knocking water out of his ears.
"Could you repeat that?"
"He was brought in unconscious by EMS. It was a massive coronary. Your name was in his wallet as next of kin."
Mickey felt faintly nauseous. "Did he suffer?"
The voice tried to sound reassuring. "If it's any comfort, this kind of heart attack is usually quick, less than a minute."
A minute that felt like hours, Mickey thought. "All right, I'll be right there. Will I find him in the ER?"
The woman's voice said yes, and Mickey hung up. He pulled back out into traffic and raced to the next exit. The news had come as a shock, but he didn't cry. He didn't know how to feel, really. Larry. The old man. Mickey's mother was a breast cancer survivor, so if anyone died early he figured she'd be the one. His father had always been tough as nails. A joke popped uninvited into Mickey's head.
A middle-aged woman drops dead of a heart attack. When she gets to Heaven, God says, "There's been a terrible mistake. You're not due to die for another forty years."
The woman wakes up and goes home. She figures she's got such a long life ahead of her, she might as well look good. So she goes in for plastic surgery face-lift, boob job, tummy tuck, the works. Two months later she's crossing the street and a bus hits her.
This time when she gets to Heaven, she says to God, "What's going on? I was supposed to live another forty years."
And God says, "Mabel, is that you?"
Usually Mickey found comfort in his own jokes, but this one was followed by a wave of guilt. It was no time for humor, yet that was how his mind worked. He couldn't help it.
The ER waiting room was a tense place, the air heavy with suffering. Desperate faces glanced up at anyone passing by, hoping it might be a doctor. Mickey marched up to the admitting desk. When the nurse heard his name, she said, "I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Fellows. This way, please."
She led him through a set of swinging doors and down a corridor lined with gurneys. On one of them a boy with his head swathed in bloody bandages sat upright, softly moaning. They stopped at the swinging doors at the end of the hall, and the nurse stood aside.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"Give me a moment, will you?" said Mickey.
"Take your time. The doctor will be right inside whenever you're ready," she murmured.
To settle his nerves, Mickey tried to imagine how Larry's face would look in death. Instead, another joke popped into his head.
God and the Devil were arguing about the fence that separates Heaven and Hell. "Your side's falling down," said God.
"Just look at it."
"So what?" said the Devil.
"We're both responsible for keeping up our side. Mine is perfect."
The Devil shrugged indifferently. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"If you force me to, I'll get a lawyer and sue you," said God.
The Devil only laughed. "Give me a break. Where are you gonna find a lawyer?"
Mickey chuckled, then he caught himself. "Jesus, why can't I act normal?" he muttered.
"Pardon me?" said the nurse.
"Nothing. I'll go in now. Thank you."
Somehow, in his entire thirty-seven years, Mickey had never seen a corpse. The lights in the room had been dimmed. A shape lay under a sheet on a table.
Jesus, Dad. You couldn't give me a heads up?
It was amazing how death stilled the air around it.
Mickey pondered that and tried not to shiver. The smell of disinfectant made the room feel colder than it was. Minutes passed. Mickey pinched himself, trying not to think of another joke.
A Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew die and go to Heaven. At the pearly gates St. Peter says—
Somebody coughed softly next to him. "Mr. Fellows? I'm Dr. Singh." The joke flew out of Mickey's mind. He turned to the Indian man in green hospital garb with a stethoscope around his neck.
"I didn't mean to intrude," the young doctor murmured.
He looked like he could be twenty, except for his bristly black beard.
Mickey felt a twinge of guilt. He thinks I was praying.
The doctor made a reassuring motion with his hand.
"You can come closer, if you want," he said. Neither of them spoke as the young doctor pulled the sheet back. It wasn't nearly as hard to look as Mickey had feared. His father could have been sleeping. Larry's color wasn't pale yet. Even at seventy he was a demon for keeping a good suntan all year.
"He looks peaceful."
Dr. Singh nodded. "Do you want to know exactly what happened? I wasn't on duty when he came in, but I've reviewed his chart. Sometimes family members want details."
"Just a few," Mickey said. He wondered if most sons would be reaching under the sheet to grab their father's hand. Larry's hands were folded over his chest. Would it be creepier if the flesh felt warm or cold?
"It was an acute myocardial infarction. A massive heart attack, at around two this afternoon. Paramedics showed up inside of five minutes. But your father was probably dead before he hit the floor."
Mickey said, "So it was quick."
Maybe that accounted for the expression on Larry's face, which wasn't really peaceful, Mickey observed, but slightly surprised. If your heart was exploding and all you felt was excruciating pain, would you just look surprised?
Suddenly Mickey had a new idea that caught him off guard.
I'm not dead, you chump. I'm just fooling, and I went to a lot of trouble here. You get the joke, don't you? You, of all people.
Mickey had to fight his sudden impulse to kick over the table and knock his old man onto the floor.
That's not funny, you sick bastard, he'd shout. And Larry would explode into one of his big belly laughs as he got up and dusted himself off.
Then Mickey caught the doctor's expression out of the corner of his eye. Was that nervousness Mickey saw?
The young doctor might be green—maybe he hadn't seen that much death himself. Mickey couldn't tell. But one thing he knew for sure. The situation definitely wasn't a joke.
Three days later Mickey went to close up his father's apartment. It was a small one-bedroom, part of a retirement complex in Culver City. He paid off Lupe, the Guatemalan housekeeper. She was the one who had found Larry's body.
"There, señor," she said, pointing to Larry's favorite chair, a Barcalounger that Mickey remembered from when he was a boy. It had been through the wars, the dark blue leather arms worn and cracked
So that's where you bought it, Mickey thought.
After Lupe left, giggling with embarrassment—he had slipped her an extra hundred and hauled her battered vacuum cleaner out to her car—there was no reason to stick around. Mickey pulled the blinds, shutting out the last feeble rays of twilight. He turned the thermostat down and looked around.
He found a half-empty whiskey bottle on his father's bedside table. The label read "Jim Beam," but screamed loneliness. Mickey wondered if his father had completely given up toward the end. He had always sounded upbeat on the phone. "Naw, you don't have to run over here. Your old man's fit as a fiddle and tight as a drum," Larry would say.
"Or maybe just tight."
Mickey swirled the amber liquor around absentmindedly.
Tight was right.
When he drifted through the shadowy living room, bottle in hand, Mickey plopped down in the beat-up lounger, unscrewed the top, and took a long swig. He held the bottle up, imagining a toast to the departed.
Here's to Sally, who dresses in black,
She always looks hot, she never looks back.
And when Sally kisses, she kisses so sweet,
She makes a thing stand that never had feet.
As toasts go, it was old-fashioned and a little salty. Larry would have approved. "God bless," Mickey mumbled.
He wasn't aware of falling asleep where he sat. Twilight surrendered to night. The whiskey bottle nestled in his lap. No tiny creatures stirred in the woodwork because there was no woodwork. In any case, the management had been very good about spraying.
WAKE UP, KIDDO.
"I am awake."
Prove it. Open your eyes.
It wasn't until that moment that Mickey realized his eyes were closed. A faint glow shone on the other side of his eyelids. When he opened them, he saw that the glow was coming from the TV he had given his father for Christmas. Who had turned it on?
He started to get up, and the whiskey bottle rolled onto the floor with a clunk. Mickey didn't pay attention, though, because the TV was acting strange. The screen was filled with gray snow, but that wasn't strange in itself; he'd canceled the cable service the day before. The strange part was that the fuzzy snow contained faint shapes. Mickey leaned down and took a closer look. He could make out the outline of a head, then two hands.
Don't turn it off.
He couldn't tell if the outline of the head had Larry's face, but this was definitely his father's voice. Which should have made Mickey jump back in alarm. Instead he was relieved, because it proved that he was dreaming. "You're in the TV," Mickey said, raising his voice. If he pointed out the dream's absurdity, it would break the spell and he'd wake up.
I'm not in the TV. Don't talk crazy. I'm in limbo. They're letting me talk to you.
"You can see them?"
Not exactly. It's complicated. Just listen.
Mickey hesitated. His glance went down to the carpet, where the fallen whiskey bottle was dripping onto the floor. He could smell the sharp alcohol, and that was wrong. One thing Mickey knew for certain: he couldn't smell in his dreams. "I'm turning this off," he mumbled.
He punched the power button on the remote, but the gray fuzz didn't disappear, or the shapes vaguely visible inside it. The hands now came into focus as they pressed up against the screen from the inside.
I want to help you.
"I don't need your help," Mickey said. He punched the remote several more times. Forget the TV. The TV is just a way to reach you. You don't believe in psychics.
This was more convenient.
Mickey shook his head. "You can't be my father.
First, this limbo business is crap. Second—"
The hands turned to fists and started to bang against the screen. Shut up. I didn't mean church limbo. It's more like a halfway house. Neither here nor there. Get it?
"No. How could I?"
One thing about this bizarre apparition was convincing. Larry had always had a short fuse, and so did the voice. It started yelling louder.
Don't blow this, kiddo. Stop being a jerk and listen to me.
"All right, all right." Mickey sat down in the lounger again.
It's different here.
You don't understand. You can't. One minute I'm sitting in that chair, the one you're in. The next minute the whole room starts to disappear. The walls fade, and I start to go through the ceiling.
"You had a heart attack. You didn't feel that?"
Pain gets erased from your memory.
"Except when it doesn't," said Mickey doubtfully.
Don't interrupt. I kept going, up and up, until I could look down and see the whole earth, and everyone on it. I saw everybody on the daylight side and on the night side. I saw all ages, all races. It felt incredible, you cannot imagine.
"You didn't go into the light?" asked Mickey.
Nope. I wondered about that. I kept floating farther into space, and the earth got smaller and smaller. I figured I must be getting closer to God.
"God's in outer space?" said Mickey.
The voice ignored this. It was getting more excited.
I kept looking around, but nothing. No God. No angels. Then I heard it. Can you imagine, kiddo? I heard the voice of God.
"What did he say?"
He didn't say anything. He was laughing.
"Who was he laughing at, you?"
No. He wasn't laughing at anybody. This laugh was everywhere. It filled the universe. It was pure joy.
The voice was now ecstatic, which wasn't like Larry at all. It made Mickey uneasy. It reminded him of the one time he had found his father crying, the day Mickey's mother had died. Anyway, what did Mickey care if God was laughing? Comedians make people laugh. It doesn't mean they're happy. Laughter is a reflex, like sneezing. The voice had been quiet for a few seconds. Now it said, Everyone should hear that sound. Kiddo, it would make all the difference. Mickey seriously doubted this, but he didn't interrupt again.
The voice sensed what Mickey was thinking.
I'm not fooling. Until the world laughs with God, nothing's going to change. "Nothing's going to change anyway," Mickey said.
He leaned down and picked up the fallen whiskey bottle from the floor. He considered taking a pull, then thought better of it.
"I'm glad you're okay, Dad," he said. "But I've gotta go. Have a nice limbo." You don't believe me.
"What I believe is that I've taken a little detour into craziness. I'm going home to get some sleep. This has been a rough week."
Not for me.
This isn't the way to end, son. I have limited access. You need to listen. I can show you what to do. Then you'll hear it, too.
Mickey had already gotten up to leave.
"If God likes to laugh, here's a joke for him," he said.
"A guy dies and goes to Hell. The Devil is giving him a tour, and they come across this ninety-year-old codger sitting on a park bench. He's smooching with a gorgeous twenty-year-old girl.
"The man says to the Devil, 'What's going on? This isn't Hell.'
"The Devil says, 'It is for the girl.'"
The voice sounded discouraged, but Mickey didn't care. He couldn't imagine God laughing, unless he was laughing at the horrible mess human beings had made on earth, in which case it was a cruel laugh. Now the Devil, he might wear a grin, and for good reason. Mickey suddenly felt a sadness in his chest. "I'm disappointed in you, Larry. You never used to preach at me. You made a lot of mistakes, but I gave you credit for one thing. You were never a hypocrite."
I can make up for everything, kiddo.
Mickey was already at the door. The fuzzy gray screen went black, and the room was plunged into darkness. His hand hesitated for just a second on the doorknob. The voice had warned him not to blow it. What if he just had?
Reprinted from the book "Why Is God Laughing?" by Deepak Chopra. Copyright © 2008 by Deepak Chopra. Published by Harmony Books, a division of Random House, Inc.