Of all the things I have to be grateful for, laughter is near the top of the list.
My parents were strange and flawed people, as are we all — but they knew how to laugh, and they taught me. Happily, they taught me early the distinction between “laughing at” someone, and “laughing with,” and no fair switching one with the other. They did try to see the lighter side of adversity, and they had a lot of it. Thanks to them, I can almost always find something humorous in virtually any situation. I don’t discount the seriousness of events. I just find that solutions open up when lightness and humor are included in the consideration.
My mother and I could set each other off in fits of giggles. One of my favorite memories of my Mom is her ability to become completely unglued about some simple, insignificant situation — and off she would go. Her laugh was the template for what mine would become: very unruly and unzipped, almost a cackle at times: yearning to be free and bust out in all its awkward inappropriateness, but balanced by the impulse to contain and restrain. Such an internal battle of cross-motivation produced a hilarious and infectious laugh that one couldn’t help but catch. She would get tickled, and start to laugh, then try not to laugh, only to have a rogue eruption of hilarity explode, uncontrolled and unexpected. The sound of her laughter was so uniquely hilarious, and perhaps “tuned” to my funny bone, that I would start laughing at her laughing. Tears would begin to stream down both of our faces, as we laughed about — nothing. Absolutely nothing. My mother called these fits of giggles “The Simples.”
My daughter and I have continued the same tradition. Propriety be damned — when we get tickled, we LAUGH. I am frequently tickled by absurdity, and at the futility of sharing my paradigm within which I perceive something as funny. I will laugh because people are not laughing — so I am the ideal audience member for fledgling stand-up comics. My daughter will avoid meeting my gaze, in a misguided yet hopeful attempt to maintain control — but resistance is for naught. Her body begins to shake with my rhythm, our inflections match, leading to more reactive laughter, and faces are moist. “Are you ‘Simple-ing?’ my son asks, provoking continued laughter. Sides ache, noses must be blown, furious coughing and sputtering ensues, and we have another great memory of yet another occasion: “What started her laughing?” It hardly matters that nobody can quite remember. But what we remember is the laughter itself. This fact is precious to me.
I revel in the fact that my daughter and son both have a unique and wonderful sense of humor. My partner jokes that it’s obvious which end of the gene pool shows up in my kids’ sense of humor. The three of us are quite different, yet we “get” each other. Time spent laughing with my kids is one of the great pleasures of life.
Humor is, indeed a sense: you can feel it. You learn it through successive approximations, overstepping at some times, not understanding in others. The sense of humor is as real and as vital as the sense of balance, or security, or sight or taste or touch. Your sense of humor is like love: it is impossible to “prove” that it exists, but anecdotal and empirical evidence abounds. . .
My mother used to say, during or after a fit of “The Simples:” “It’s better than cryin’.” Indeed. My son joins in with silent, manly, whole-body, incredulous laughter, and my son-in-law enjoys the opportunity to tease his wife, and marvel at her free-spirited mother. The men in our family love to laugh: clean, happy, pure, no-reason-at-all, delighted laughter. I believe this bodes well for the longevity and resilience of relationships.
My partner expresses his appreciation for the fact that even though I “cloud up and rain” when I am upset, the clouds clear as quickly as they arrived. We laugh at our cats, at TV programs, at funny things that our fabulous friends post on their Facebook pages, and at life in general. He delights in the percolating stages of the full-on “Simples.” I love hearing him laugh, free, unconstrained, seeking to understand some justification for such hysterical, sustained mirth: and, giving up and giving in, dissolving into the contagion of the hilarity.
One of my favorite radio programs on my beloved NPR station (Rock on, KUHF!) is “Car Talk.” I know nothin’ about cars. However, it’s worth it to me to hear Tom and Ray, Click and Clack, Get “the Simples.” I feel my ribs relax, my belly soften, my breath deepen, as I laugh with them for no reason but the aural invitation. I think the world aches to have a reason to laugh. Having an example, and real people to laugh with, is a force for healing, and for the restoration of sanity in our crazy world.
Laughter, and food. Sharing them assures the continuation of civilization as we know it. Laughter keeps me young. Laughter keeps me curious and engaged with the world as it evolves, instead of clinging to some idea of “what used to be.” My business partner, my friends, my colleagues, my adult children, my love, all share the ability to share a good laugh.
I fear that our contemporary culture mistakes genuine laughter for what is actually derision, or “schadenfreude:” enjoyment in the misfortunes of others. Our culture is cynical and snarky, humorless or “of ill-humor,” as our Victorian forebears might describe it. Nothing good, nothing restorative comes of this inspiration. True merriment is its own catalyst, and a powerful force for good. Deep, gasping, tear-inducing, no-reason-at-all laughter requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to look silly, to have no justification at all for its existence. For this reason, it is precious, and greatly to be sought.
What makes you laugh — really, purely, delightedly, LAUGH? What is your equivalent of “The Simples?”
- Describe the sound of your laugh (fishofgold.wordpress.com)