I believe in the efficacy of laughter. In fact, laughter is the number one attribute I value in my husband and friends. I will not delve into clichés, but laughter may very well have cosmic powers, too. I believe that God laughs.
Humor, for me, is a family value. My genetic traits include apple-rosy cheeks, well-defined eyebrows and a guffaw that shatters all pretense of decorum. I have passed these characteristics on to my daughters, both of whom have enchanting and unforgettable laughs. My memory bank of my father includes the sounds of laughter. Indeed, my earliest memory is looking under the door of my bedroom at a party of grown-ups, my father with his head thrown back, laughing uproariously.
Laughter has saved me in times of duress. For example, when my grandma Gisella lay comatose at the advanced age of 102, the females in the family held watch over her deathbed. After hours of tediously hushed small talk, I met my sister’s eye – we exchanged smirks and simultaneously grabbed for the needle-less, empty syringe on Grandma’s hospital table. I won. Filling it with water, I aimed and shot. A morbid, mad water fight ensued. Suddenly, my mother’s shocked voice interrupted our laughter: “Girls!” Then she, too, dissolved into helpless giggles. That is my last memory of Grandma.
Why is it in times of deep sadness and grief that laughter will bubble to the surface most inappropriately? Recently, my beloved friend, mentor and priest for twenty-five years battled pancreatic cancer. One memorable afternoon, I asked helplessly, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Sure, kid,” Fr. John weakly replied, “you can get me a new pancreas.”
We both began laughing hysterically. “Yeah, what is a pancreas good for anyway?” We were then admonished for disrupting the sickroom calm. That is my last memory of Fr. John.
In the classroom I often use laughter. From the first unit on satire to the final evaluation of the course, laughter is a covert objective. Early in my career, I learned that sarcasm is not synonymous with humor. The barbs of sarcasm wound; laughter soothes and nourishes. Now, most laughter comes at my expense – at my own self-effacement. When I laugh at myself and my students join in, laughter joins us together. We may be a community of writers, readers, and thinkers, but most importantly, I strive to create a community of substantial merriment.
Laughter consoles. Laughter heals. Laughter alleviates stress. I believe the longevity of my family line is due to our tendency to mirth. Laughter lifts me up. This I believe.
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