Laughter, the Unstoppable Force
My wife and I hadn't talked in days. I was in a depressed state of exhaustion and anger after months of unusual hours, a grueling workload and a to-do list that haunted me, despite rather successful attempts to ignore it. Dark thoughts kept me company. Irritability, on the other hand, had closed communication with the one whose support I needed most, a reality that now felt selfishly good.
Wednesday night came, with her on the couch for a sit-com we normally watched together and me invisible and reading on the chair across the room, wishing she weren’t present. Two people who love each other but couldn’t imagine entering the other’s space.
That’s when the main character delivered a humorous line.
Not generically humorous. A line that broke into the room in a way neither of us could ignore. I tried desperately to contain myself, but we both reacted in laughter. Silently at first, but it grew. Bodies began to shudder. Quiet snorts and sniffles emerged and we laughed harder, finally bursting into cachinnation with the force of pent-up emotion behind it. Three days with nothing more than “Can you pick up milk?” and we laughed hard. We laughed hard for minutes, till the tears came.
Laughter has been good to me. I love the wild escape it offers, and the work it does inside, like when you gun the motor of an old car to blow out the carbon. I laugh a lot. I laugh from the heart. And no place is sacred, even the chair where I had sulked for days.
Elements of laughter
We should laugh a lot. Kids do, when they uncover a new marvel, or get word that Gramma and Grampa plan to visit. It demonstrates an excited state, expressed involuntarily through this odd collaboration between lung and larynx. Discovery fosters this excitement in me, especially when I travel or take legitimate breaks from stressful activities.
Laughter should also come from the heart. I knew a student who spent his days making others laugh, but only as a way to hide. His funny façade had no correlation with his interior. Conversely, when my friend Paul talks about canoe trips (or his dog, basketball team, old van, new house, otters he spotted at daybreak on the creek bank…), laughter spills out. He can’t help it. Life bubbles up and everyone listening joins in. For Paul, it comes from within.
And laughter is no respecter of location, as we’ll see in next Friday’s culture post by poet, playwright and professor, Jeanne Murray Walker. Church services, funerals, hospital rooms, job interviews; when timing, content and delivery strike the magic chord, we give up etiquette. We abandon social protocol. We break the silence and step out of our politeness – or gloom, as the case may be – long enough to really, thoroughly, laugh.
I don’t know if laughter could be considered a high calling. I can’t manufacture it, or choose to laugh as part of my work. I can’t – unless I play the false role of the student mentioned above – simply make myself laugh, even if others think I’m funny. I can’t even predict when laughter will come, though I sense its likelihood when planning to spend time with certain people (chemistry matters here). And I sense it coming when exploring new places with those willing to stop being so grown up that they’ve lost their inner kid.
If you haven’t laughed in a while, what’s keeping you? Paul turns to the word delight. I mean, he actually likes the word itself. But more than that, he delights in others, finds delight in simple daily happenings (just as the dear old man in the photo seems to find in his life of selling Pepitas), and Paul knows that God delights in him. Perhaps this is attitude or inherited disposition, I don’t know. What comes easily to Paul seems to elude others. But forever? No. I don’t think so. One night, regardless of how long you’ve been without it, you’ll find yourself shuddering on the chair, unable to contain a gift that must come out.