Suicide bombs, pedophile priests, a loved one lost to cancer: thoughts crowding my early morning mind while I sit planted at the kitchen counter, my breakfast untouched. Seeking a reprieve, I push aside Madison’s newspaper and reach for the pocket-sized tape recorder resting nearby. The “click” brings it all back: how, more than a dozen years ago, a touch of whimsy led me to tape the jovial sounds of those I love.
Today, the “play” button brings laughter, gales of laughter: Dennis’ basso profundo peppered with Elaine’s warm, rapid-fire cackle; Jeannie’s reliable staccato underscoring both of them with a snort—or two. Hitting “pause,” I smile at those precious moments spent with dear friends during my visit to New Mexico in 1992.
Next “play:” Chicago, where laughter, the common denominator of my hometown pals, calls back a childhood spent with Oz and Carol and later, Linnea. Year after year, retelling the same time-enriched stories, we need only to say, “Remember when…” and a crescendo of laughter leaves me grinning.
“Fast forward” and I’m in Chicago again, this time for Thanksgiving with family: 12 adults and nearly as many kids, a robust harmony of joy, each laugh distinctive. And there’s my brother’s voice chuckling, “This is so like something Mom would have done!”
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll play the once-familiar giggles of Mattie, my little buddy next-door, now 23, accompanied by the infectious laugh of his mother, Sarah. They form the core of my surrogate family here in Madison.
Another day, I may listen to Sarah, along with Chris, Kathy, and Ruthann cracking up because the little recorder captured my own hilarious laughter more clearly than theirs. And is that Jiggs or Joe with the gusty guffaw? They laugh so alike, yet they hardly know each other. Larry, the man whose clothes I have laundered for 28 years, pops up occasionally gasping from a belly laugh that almost halts his breathing. Toward the end, old friends CJ and Katie let fly a string of rip-roaring howls—a fitting spot to rewind the tape.
The lighthearted notion to create a personalized laugh track, 15 years ago, has proved an unexpected blessing. I believe that merely listening to the laughter of loved ones brings nourishment and healing in a world in short supply of both. I believe in shielding myself with laughter, in order to withstand the painful, nasty, humorless parts of life. For me, to laugh is to transcend: this I believe.
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