Tuesday, October 2, 2018

“It’s the Laughter We Will Remember…”

The song is bittersweet, about love found and lost, and the memories that remain. All that is left after years and years is the laughter they shared. And it comforts them.

From the ACLU's Twitter Feed, October 4, 2018
Yes, laughter is what we remember. A universal communication, it may actually have served as language for primitive man. Not to indicate humor, but to show mutual harmlessness, openness, and friendliness. Babies laugh before they speak, not because anything is funny. Instinctively a baby knows that laughter helps two brains sync together, and hopefully that other brain belongs to someone who is going to care for him, bond with him, protect him. It stimulates endorphins and oxytocin, creating what we call love. Love that grew from laughter. 

It is biology, evolution, magic — a precious gift shared by only a few other species on earth.

But laughter has a dark side. There is laughter that is not meant to show friendliness or bonding. It is meant to demean, belittle, and objectify. Those who use laughter as a weapon are often very skilled at it — the bully who makes someone cry, then convinces the rest of the kids to laugh. The sociopath who laughs when inflicting pain. Whether consciously our unconsciously, the person using laughter as a weapon knows that that laughter not only causes pain in the moment, but repeated pain, time and again. For some victims, they can no longer tolerate hearing laughter, even when it is joyous. Others are so traumatized they are convince that they do not deserve to laugh.

I know that feeling. Laughter was used as a weapon against me more than once in my life. There were the mean girls who didn’t let me into their group when we moved from New York to New Jersey. They laughed at my clothes, they laughed at my accent. Laughter that I could hear sitting inside my house, watching them walk by, sure that they knew about the chaos I was living with.

I carry other laughter with me. The laughter that came with the nickname “The Brainless Wonder.” The laughter that came when, after being forced to sing into a tape recorder (you like to sing? Then sing!), a song that had lyrics something like “until I die…” For what seemed like years I had to listen to that tape, and the voice that cut me off — “with a voice like that, you’re dead already!”

I was easily embarrassed, felt self conscious, and overly sensitive to laughter for most of my school years. Someone threw a firecracker at my feet in a school hallway, and the noise momentarily deafened me. But I could see the laughter on the face of the person who threw it.

It was music that saved me, and a music teacher who tolerated my hypersensitivity and tendency to storm out of a room and slam the door. I found the courage to sing again, and I spent my entire senior year studying humor and satire. The pain of the harmful laughter began to fade — not completely, it will never be completely gone, but it was locked away.

I thought it was locked away for good. But the brain is capricious with memory. Things will happen that launch you right back to the most uncomfortable moments of your past.

Such is what happened to me listening to the testimony of Dr. Ford. Like many, I had been sexually assaulted as a teen. A family friend cornered me in a boathouse, groped me, pulled me close, and put his hands inside my bathing suit. He laughed loudly as I broke free and ran away. I had actually forgotten about that laughter until Dr. Ford talked about her own experience. The fact that laughter burns into the amygdala. That laughter remains a sharp memory when other details may become fuzzy. I found out that laughter, used as a weapon, lies in waiting, ready to come roaring back to your conscious mind when you experience just the right situation.

And this evening, I witnessed the president of the United States mock Dr. Ford’s testimony, in the same way he had mocked the physical challenges of NY Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski. It made me sick. It made me furious. It made me ashamed because now that my memories were flooding back to me, I realized that society had permitted the mocking of Mr. Kovaleski, and would now permit the mocking of Dr. Ford.

There will be a flurry of outrage, but nothing will be done. What CAN be done? The man seems made of Teflon – he can sit in a fire of his own making and not get burned.

Laughter has become a mission in my life. I know its importance and power. Laughter can heal, bond enemies, reduce pain and lighten depression.  Laughter can highlight social ills and announce to the crowd that the emperor has no clothes. But, in the hands of a bully, a person of power, or an entire society, laughter as a weapon can cause unrelenting trauma.

Tonight I feel that my voice of laughter’s joys and benefits is weak and unheard. I feel complicit in not doing something, anything to stop this.

But I have no answers. It is the laughter I remember.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

Laughing Again

Since 2010, when I was first certified as a Laughter Yoga leader, attended "Can Humor Save the World" in Cape May, New Jersey, and started down the path of learning the importance of enhancing one's well being through humor and laughter, I am often drawn back to the events of 9-11-2001. 

Life would never be the same, and many of us wondered if we could ever laugh again—physically, emotionally, spiritually. There were unsuccessful attempts met with condemnations of "too soon." The equation that comedy = tragedy + time didn't tell us how much time. Mel Brooks often challenged others' interpretations of that, successfully facing it head on with movies such as both versions of "The Producers."

We know from many survivors of horror, such as Viktor Frankl, and the clowns who entertain children in Middle East war zones and other places, humor, even "gallows humor," often has a place in the midst of unimaginable situations.

Next April, The Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor will center its whole conference on the very idea of "too soon." I'm sure part of the discussions with be the Comedy Equation, and how the "time" factor must remain an unsolvable variable that will require many other calculations to glean.

As the anniversary of 9-11 approaches, I look back again on what I wrote that year, doing my best to assure myself and others, that, yes, we would laugh again. That in fact, laughter is a necessary part of healing.

We Will Laugh Again

©Noreen Braman

As I write this, October 2001 is spreading the golden crown of fall across most of America. A sense of change is in the air, as nature prepares herself for the long restful sleep of winter.  And, deep within us, there is change too – not a seasonal change brought about by nature, but a violent upheaval that reverberates to the innermost depths of the soul. Our hearts have been slashed open by an insidious foe hiding behind a cowardly mask of self-serving ideology. Our pain is so great, we know we have been changed forever, and in our grief, in our mourning, in our righteous anger comes the feeling that we will never smile again. Indeed those of us who have survived these horrific events, those of us who can hold our loved ones to our breasts are burdened by an overwhelming sense of guilt and a helplessness that is almost paralyzing.

But we have been asked to get back to business. We have been asked to prove that our way of life here in America is not something that can be snuffed out by those who place no value on life, have no sense of honor and seek only to destroy all who cannot feed into their megalomania. Indeed, they are depending on the very things that make us American ­– our compassion, our openness, our hands that we extend in friendship to those who love and hate us — to let them get to us, hurt us, kill us. But those hands have now closed into fists of anger and frustration, those hands have grasped the tools of rescue and rebuilding, those hands have raised the flag of freedom and justice, and those hands are reaching across the globe, to find the cowards where they hide, to drag them out into the light of day, where no evil thing can live. And slowly, yes, slowly, our tears will dry. Our faces will wear the grim visages of determination; our eyes will focus on the task ahead. As one, we will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, stronger and fiercer. And when the dust, dirt, debris and blood of the battle clears – we will stand, united and free still.

And yes, as time goes by, we will smile again, we will laugh again. The United States, the nation blessed and charged with standing as the shining example for all, will go on.  But we shall never forget.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A poem in honor of baseball season

The D Sign

When my coach flashes the D sign
my pitching arm better be warm
and ready to retire the side
3 up, 3 down.
Not to get battered
pitching into disaster
my rotator cuff on fire.

Or, stepping up to the plate
the D sign means
don't think about my average
just face down the fastball.
Out of the park
or hard bounce in the infield
whatever brings the run home.

Getting the D sign is serious
strikeouts or homeruns expected.
That's what happens 
when you make the choice
to compete as a

©2018 Noreen Braman

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2018 - John Adams and Erma Bomeck

This time of year, I think about my favorite Broadway play, 1776. The music is wonderful, the story well-presented, and perhaps, the fact that I first saw it back when I was an idealistic teenager has something to do with my affection for it.

I could not help but be caught up in the portrayal of John Adams as an annoying buzzing fly (among the other annoying buzzing files in Philadelphia) who doesn't give up on his vision of what a new country, the United States of America, could become — if only his compatriots could see what he saw.

I still get goosebumps just thinking about the roll call at the end and how they all end up frozen in place, to match the famous painting. Yes, the music, the bells, the humor — it accomplishes the whole point of leaving the audience with swelling pride. But also, in some respects, an underlying current of sorrow. Sadness, perhaps, for the distance between aspiration and accomplishment that still exists.

The history of the US is full of bright lights and dark caverns. We have, at times, been the beacon of hope for the world, and at other times lost our way in the shadows. It is a history we must pay attention to, in order to keep the light burning bright, while acknowledging the darkness and keeping it at bay.

This year, I worry, more than I ever have, about the soul of the United States. Our collective minds debate daily what should be the future path, and our hearts are pendulums that traverse from stone-cold indifference to tearful empathy. But our souls seem the most fragile and endangered. At times we seem to teeter on the edge of losing them forever, either through willful abandonment or the sweep of powerful tidal forces.

Dante posted a sign at the gates of Hell, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." 

Yet, Pandora found that hope could still exist, even in the face of overwhelming tribulations. 

My wish for the US on this Independence Day, is that we choose the path where hope is still the beacon we shine to the world.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may


The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

Words from Erma Bombeck:

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.  by Erma Bombeck.