The Definition of Laughter

I’ve always loved to laugh.  I realize everyone’s probably nodding along in agreement:  that’s certainly not a controversial statement.   But I seem to really need it–deep down need it–maybe more than most people.  My default facial expression has always been a smile.  My life’s ambition is to have one of those faces you sometimes see on elderly people which are very deeply creased with laugh lines.

I was listening to a podcast recently, and the speaker, a comedian,  was saying that one day he had been researching the definition of laughter.  It said “laughter is hope made tangible.”  I have no idea where that definition came from.  I’m using it without giving the proper credit, but I felt it was too wonderful not to share.  So I am.

Laughter has gotten me, and my entire family, through SO MANY extremely dark periods. Take my mother’s heart surgery a few years ago. During the time I was staying with her in the hospital, it didn’t look at all hopeful.  I got so desperate for anything cheerful or funny that that at night, when she was sleeping, I would stretch out in the ICU waiting room or the couch in her hospital room and stream the latest Jim Gaffigan comedy special on my laptop. Sometimes that was the only thing between me and a nervous breakdown.

Following my accident, while I was at On With Life, my regimen was very demanding  both physically and mentally.  In the evenings a member of my family would help me down the hall to my room where there were side-by-side leather recliners.  I became very attached to them–so much so so that I decided that they belonged to us, and we should take them home when I was discharged.  This may not entirely have been due to my broken brain….

My speech aphasia was still severe, so my family relied on “a series of yes” or “no” question.  My world was very tiny, which was probably a good thing.  The list of my possible needs was finite.  “Hungry?  Thirsty?  Bathroom?  Tired?  Cold?  Chapstick? “As you’ll probably guess from this post, I seem to be obsessed with chapstick.

They would ask me which of the chairs I wanted, and if I wanted the foot rest up.  We would call “Shpring it,” and then my current family-member-in-waiting would pull the lever to raise my feet.  The origins of that phrase, once again, must have been another example of dark humor.   I have forgotten now, but I may have mispronounced “spring.” Our oldest daughter has the gift of creating fun out of  the most mundane tasks.  After the accident, in those months, I certainly cherished that.

Then they would ask if I wanted “Burt’s Bees,” which was what I called all chapstick for several months, drape me with a blanket, and we would stream episodes of The Office on the TV. My daughters called this “my evening relax and smile therapy.”

My addiction to this show led to a little embarrassment.  That Christmas when I made my first overnight home visit, I was still very prone to speaking in memorized quotes and poems and song lyrics. I was not yet very skilled at composing original sentences, which is a really complex process for the brain.  This apparently  led to my making a “that’s what she said” joke in front of my  very conservative mother, who was up for the day from Missouri. It was 24 hours of various sorts of ribald comments,  all of which I found vastly amusing.  My filter, never very thick at the best of times,was totally MIA.  Thank goodness I was never one for cursing or automatic bad language, or I don’t know what would have happened!

During my time on the feeding tube, I lost a lot a weight.  I have gained some back since, but I’m pretty careful about monitoring my weight gain. For the time being vigorous exercise is very much out of the question.  I eat little with my low level of activity.  Besides,  I get pretty defensive about my sweet tooth–when you can’t digest rich food, hate the taste of any drink other than water, can only tolerate tiny portions at a time, especially when in public…I mean, cut me some slack!  I honestly feel as if eating sweets is my only real consolation.  I know, I know, that’s a pretty unhealthy relationship with food.  But it’s at least my own sickness, and I don’t feel I can control much these day.

Since the accident my family have relied a lot on very dark humor. So when people (a few of whom haven’t seen me since the accident,)  say “you look great!”, my response sometimes is “Thank you.I call it the coma diet.  But I can’t recommend it;  it almost killed me.”  Hopefully, after a startled second, this gets a huge laugh.  It never fails to crack me up.

One night I was talking on the phone to my lifelong friend. It was during the time our youngest son was busy applying to colleges, and struggling to get the very best financial aid package.  I told her that I had given him my permission to fully exploit the story of how how, during my entire hospitalization, he had continued to go to school as normal.  This had resulted in him finally buckling down and starting to really take school more seriously, as was evidenced in the sudden rise in his cumulative GPA. I think I was also explaining to her that I felt my family had gone through so much they should get something out of it.

Sally didn’t miss a beat.  She said, “there’s nothing a good mother won’t do for her son.  Nothing.”

It took my poor fractured brain several seconds to get it, and then I laughed until I almost wet my pants.  That’s one big reason for our lifelong friendship–we can share jokes.  What a rare gift.  When you find that someone, all I can tell you is, keep the attachment alive!

That definition of laughter; I love it so much.  “Hope made tangible.”  Hope heals. I’m a living example of that. Beauty and laughter have always been life values for me, but I used to be able to leave to go out to get them.  Not anymore.  So I have to be proactive to fill my house, and my life, with them all the more .   Bring on the laughter!

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Goodbye With Grace

You are boarding the plane.  My phone buzzes in my hip pocket as I supervise a final.  It’s not like I didn’t know you would actually have to leave.  It just wasn’t exactly final until I received the text. And it’s not like New York is a world away. We have cell phones; email; I could finally figure out how to use Skype, for goodness sake.

But you’re not here. Not in my house. I can’t hear your breath when I peek in your room at night. I can’t kiss your sweet cheek and I can’t watch you while you’re laughing with your brothers and sister about nothing and everything. I will set a place for you and then, remembering, put the dish away.

Yes, we’re very different. No, we wouldn’t do well living together indefinitely. You are every bit as opinionated as I am (“bossypants” indeed!). We can drive each other crazy.

But I love you. I loved you when you were only a thought, a worry, a very difficult thing to explain to my parents. I loved you when you were a chubby-faced baby with white peach fuzz sticking straight up out of your head. I loved you when you cried, when you smiled, when you slept. I loved you through the silly fashions, through the anger, the shouting, the tears. I loved you when you couldn’t stand the sight of me. I haven’t drawn a breath in 27 years that wasn’t filled with love of you, and I don’t suppose I ever will.

So I miss you today. Go safely. May your pilot be well-rested. May the city be kind to you when you arrive. May you have work offers waiting. May you stop to remember the One who gifted us with this love and this time together.

I love you. When you’re so far away from me, that’s all I have left. I can’t love you with my arms, with my smile, with a delicious dinner….but I love you. Go with joy and hope in your heart, and the courage that comes with knowing there are people who always wait for you to come home.

Christmas Rises Again

Feeling fashionably cynical about Christmas?  Puttin’ on the snarky tone when you talk about it?  Or (secretly) enjoying running the list down of things to do/places to go/concerts to attend/things to buy?  Not me.  Not this year.

Yes, I admit, I’ve been overwhelmed in the past and secretly thought how amazing it would be to slip onto a plane or a boat or into a car and head off for a private, quiet, non-stressful holiday somewhere like the middle of the ocean or the Snow Lodge at Yellowstone.  Exchange 1 gift with my husband, then take a nap.  Christmas in a hot tub….now that’s the spirit.

I spent years deliriously joyful about it all–baking every cookie and treat possible, giving multiple gifts beautifully wrapped, running church musicals, playing for as many as 5 services Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, and feeling like zombie woman long into January when I finally mustered the energy to take the (really grossly dusty) decorations down.

The next stage was the slightly resentful downsized version–less decorations, less treats, still the same gifts, less concert involvement, more grumbling about the whole thing.  That wasn’t really the optimum way to enter the season.  Still working too hard at it but not enjoying much of it.

So I sat down and thought about it all.  What were the really, really good bits of it?  Sitting around the Advent candles in the dark watching my children’s faces as we talked about the prophecies of the Old Testament; ringing Salvation Army bells outside the mall with loud, insane groups of singing teen-agers banging on various assorted percussion instruments; looking at the tree in the evening with a glass of wine; eating the first piece of fudge (admittedly more shallow than the other things but truly a great moment in the holiday season).  So why not do more of that and less of other things?  Easier said than done, right?

So how to handle it this year?  Trying to put the first things first….scheduling the bell-ringing before other things jump into the schedule.  Buying less gifts (still unfortunately spending the same, though–young-adult children are EXPENSIVE!).  Changing up the decorations and simplifying (you mean you don’t have to put everything out every year?!).  Starting cards early.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I’m sure I’ll still be rushed and a little resentful by the end.  I just think that if I put the big, good things in first, maybe some of the other little time-wasters will be displaced and just disappear, unregretted, without a trace.  After all, 7 kinds of treats are probably plenty, don’t you think?

Wishing you all a merry Christmas.  Peace and joy to you all.  No matter what your belief, I believe we all could use more of love and hope.  And besides–at the risk of offending you, the Baby was born to bring hope to all mankind.  That’s not a threat or fightin’ words.  That’s just a promise.  Image