Thursday, May 27, 2010

insights: the church laugh

Last night in class our professor started reading aloud from an article. As he started reading about a true, bizarre, tragic story that just got worse and worse (like a sad country song from the 50's--and then his wife left and the dog ran away. . .), I started to feel the heat rise in my face and the laugh that was starting in my toes. It wasn't an obviously funny story by any means and this was a serious class.


(Don't you just love a laugh with your best friend? 
Me (right) and my best friend Mimi  
at my surprise sweet 16th birthday party)

I looked down at my laptop and bit my lip. But it didn't help. I started to shake with laughter. I looked across the table and I saw my classmates Benn and Cassie start to laugh as well and they were clearly trying as hard as I was to fight it.

It was that kind of laughter that you experienced when you were a little kid in church or school and the more you knew you couldn't laugh, the more it's uncontrollable. It was wrong to laugh. I knew that but as he read aloud, it was too much. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. I snorted. I couldn't stop. Benn leaned back and almost kicked over the table. He actually had to leave the room to get a glass of water.

That laugh. It was the laughter that it so primal, it reaches down into every fiber of your body. It felt so good to have that laugh after so much sadness.

There is something about laughing, about that release when the tension of a moment is too much. When my grandfather died, my mother and grandmother and I were driving back from making arrangements. It was late on a January evening and my mother was driving. My elderly grandmother was in the front seat and I was sitting behind my mother. The car was quiet and the sadness of losing my grandfather sucked all the life from the car.

As we were driving in silence, exhausted from the trauma of the past 24 hours my very religious grandmother said "Well, now Paul is in heaven. The lucky stiff." She had no idea what she just said was funny.

I saw my mother's eyes in the rear view mirror. Once it registered with her what my grandmother had said (Yes, at that point in time, my grandfather was indeed a lucky stiff), she caught my eye and her eyes got very wide. I knew she was about to crack up. I shook my head  and mouthed "No, do NOT laugh. DO NOT LAUGH." But you know when someone tells you not to laugh, it makes it harder to keep it in? Well, mom did great until she saw me head down, body shaking with laughter and she started laughing. My grandmother looked at both us and thought we were clearly disturbed. My mom actually had to pull over to the side of the Mass Pike because she was laughing so hard she couldn't drive. My grandmother looked at my mom and I and said "What is WRONG with the two of you?"

My mother: "Mom, you just said something funny. I'm sorry, I know Dad's gone but it was funny."

My grandmother with a straight face, not getting it: "It's not funny. What? What did I say?"

My mother: "You called Dad a lucky stiff. You know, he is kinda by now."

My grandmother: "Oh, well he's a lucky stiff in heaven." Gotta love that woman.

Sometimes a laugh like this, one that is so inappropriate is better than any drug. (Let me clarify: a laugh that takes your breath away is NOT funny if you are making fun of someone or hurting someone's feelings.) This kind of laugh shared with someone releases endorphins which flood through your body down to your fingertips. I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard. I had no idea how much I needed a laugh like this.

And our professor? Well, I think he got a kick out of us, in his deadpan serious way. In fact, he waved the sheets of paper at Benn as he left the room to get that drink of water and said "Have the secretary make copies. You  all clearly enjoy this."

There is something healing in true laughter shared with someone, a laugh that comes from your core and one that you can't control. It's a shame that you can't will that feeling to happen but sometimes you just have to let go and enjoy the ride.

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