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The Losses and the Laughter We Grow Into with Kevin Kling
Krista's Journal: March 15, 2012

About the Image Kevin Kling at home in his kitchen. (photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune 2012)

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The Losses and the Laughter We Grow Into Kevin Kling is part funny guy, part poet and playwright, part wise man. He shares his special angle on life's humor and its ruptures — and why we turn loss into story.

Krista Tippett, host of BeingTurning the Gifts of Our Experiences Into Story and Laughter Full disclosure: until I moved to Minnesota, I didn't get the Midwestern accent/humor thing thing that the movie Fargo so iconically captured. But I remember hearing Kevin Kling on NPR and staying with him despite myself, always being touched as well as amused at where his stories took me.

Having only heard him on the radio, I wasn't aware of the disability he was born with — his left arm much shorter than his right, with no wrist and no thumb. Then, about ten years ago, he was in a catastrophic motorcycle crash. The Associated Press and the local newspapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul reported the accident. Eyewitnesses thought he had died. The accident had paralyzed his healthy right arm, the one which had always done the bulk of the work.

Reading his stories from and about his childhood — they are legion — it is clear that Kevin Kling was always a natural humorist. And life has also made him wise.

Kevin KlingOur losses make us human, he's learned. They give us our richness and our wisdom. But wisdom doesn't come cheap; it costs us. This is one of the endless things he says that makes you think hard just before or after he makes you smile.

We get the whole package of Kevin Kling in this conversation: funny guy, poet, wise man. As deeply down to earth as he is — in life as on stage — he also has an innate love of literature and philosophy, weaving Shakespeare and Dante into his stories as easily as Goofus and Gallant.

He describes himself as touched by Dante's underworld. It's a reality he feels he landed in, and wrested himself back from, after his accident. He also plays with Dante's language about the underworld as he considers his very being and presence in the world. Dis, he says, is "the place of shadow and reflection where you round off the rough edges of torment and desire. You go to this world of Dis. And it's the prefix for 'disability,' which doesn't mean 'unability.' It means able through the world of shadow and reflection. And so it's just another way of doing things… it is literally having a foot in two worlds." This is how Kevin Kling experiences the "dis" in the disability he was born with, as well as the one he acquired in midlife.

And being able-bodied, he helpfully points out, is always only a temporary condition.

Sit back, relax, and prepare to reflect and to laugh. It's a rare, lovely gift of Kevin Kling to make us do both. He helps us remember what he knows so well — that our sense of self and our sense of humor are great gifts in facing whatever life throws at us. Once we turn our experiences into stories and laughter, they no longer control us. The challenge is in not merely resting with the stories that help us sleep at night, but claiming the stories we want to grow into.

The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling I Recommend Reading: The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling

The Dog Says How is a lovely collection of Kevin Kling's short stories. Published after his motorcycle accident, it brings together all the threads of his personality, humor, and wisdom.

Big Little Brother by Kevin KlingBig Little Brother by Kevin Kling

If you're looking for a delightful story to read to your children or grandchildren, or better yet give as a gift, look no further than Big Little Brother. This book makes adults and kids laugh out loud. Kling crafts a heart-warming tale of a boy who is quickly outpaced in physical stature by his baby brother. A relationship with a younger sibling that begins with envy and annoyance develops into a lovely, albeit strategic, friendship.