There’s a proverb that says, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Enlightening enough, but I believe in something more profound, something my brother taught me. I believe that when the going gets tough, it’s time to laugh.
My brother, Jeremy, was born during a thunderstorm sixteen years ago. I remember this clearly, because my grandmother had slipped on the hospital’s wet linoleum and sprained her ankle. But when she held my baby brother, gurgling in his blue blanket, she beamed through the pain brighter than a summer’s sunburst. That was Jeremy, already working his magic on Day One of his life.
I adored Jeremy. I fussed over him like a pestilential big sister. I couldn’t wait for him to grow up so we could run and romp like my friends did with their siblings. But Jeremy only started walking when he was almost two. He could barely climb steps; he had to grip the railings and pull himself up slowly, like some sloth on National Geographic. He couldn’t jump far, or run fast. It seemed his legs never did what they were told.
When he was four, Jeremy was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His muscles, one by one, would begin to fail him, and the disease, which started with his legs, would eventually creep up to his heart and lungs. Doctors gave him a decade to live. I wanted to give him the rest of my life.
By the time he was seven, Jeremy was in a wheelchair. At an age where other boys were hitting homeruns or paddling on skateboards, Jeremy was rolling up and down ramps and ignoring the curious stares of schoolmates. But he never let any of this get to him, the little punk. Instead, he laughed. He laughed when some mean kids called him ‘jelly legs’. He laughed when his wheelchair caught in a rut and catapulted him onto the gravel, leaving him with scabby knees for weeks. He laughed when I beat him to the fridge to get ice-cream. There was always something Jeremy laughed about.
Jeremy made us laugh too. He made sure we laughed! I remember driving him to the hospital, shortly before he passed away. He was very weak by then: his lungs were giving out, and he was attached to an oxygen tank. It was so difficult for me to look at him.
“Hey sis,” he wheezed suddenly. “You know why women live longer than men?”
“Why?” I replied absent-mindedly, concentrating more on my parallel parking.
“Because God adds all that extra parking time to their lives, duh.”
He knew he was dying, but he made me laugh. He made sure I laughed.
At his funeral, there were tears, but there was laughter too. Everyone recounted something funny Jeremy did or said. It made me realize how beautiful Jeremy made his life with laughter.
Today, I’m taking a page out of Jeremy’s book. I’m laughing through the thunderstorms of my life. Because when the going gets tough, it’s time to laugh. This I believe.
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