Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

Pink and white Christmas cacti

Today, December 24, 2015, the rain is coming down in alternating drizzles and downpours here in New Jersey. The temperature is hovering at a very un-Christmas-like 70 degrees and plants that are supposed to be dormant by now are still green and growing. Santa will certainly need to remove his heavy red jacket during his deliveries in this area tonight. I can imagine him saying, “Ho Ho Ho, it’s HOT in here!” So, for those of you in New Jersey, do Santa a favor, and leave him a nice cold glass of ice water tonight instead of the hot chocolate. 

For me, today, and, indeed, most of the next week, is a “looking back” time. I think it may start with the Christmas decorations. As I unpack each one, I am transported to Christmases Past. I get a comforting feeling of familiarity and tradition, and also a sometimes-melancholy feeling of change and difference. My house is a much quieter place at Christmas than it was many years ago. Once the designated “Christmas Party House,” the much smaller home I purchased after my divorce does not host a holiday throng of family and friends. As my children grew and began being out of the house more and more, it got even quieter. The large set of Christmas dishes, glasses and mugs gradually fell out of use and these years stay wrapped up in storage. Now my children are adults with homes of their own, extended family that also expect their presence on holidays and for some of them, inconvenient distance. 

I have the choice to dwell on the quieting of my house, or to reflect; instead, on the new joys life has brought me. I have 4 grandchildren who delight and surprise me on a daily basis. I live with the LOML (love of my life), whom I met just when I was getting ready to resign myself to forever living alone and maybe becoming a crazy cat lady. (Which would be especially difficult considering I have a dog and a bird, neither of which are fond of cats.) I have found a new calling in sharing laughter, not only for the fun of it, but also for the health of it. With a few stumbles and some glancing over my shoulder, I am learning to embrace change and move forward.

 I am grateful to be living in the days of Internet and cell phones, which help me keep in touch with my children, my family and my friends. Video chatting with my grandchildren is something my own grandmother never dreamed of. I remember that even making a “long distance call” to absent relatives on the holidays was a special event and always a rushed affair. Technology has truly made the world a smaller place. And although there are drawback and concerns about oversharing and lack of privacy, it is also a great thing that, this week especially, I can look back on my social media and remember all the smiles, laughter, tears and sighs from the past year.
 This week, I will physically embrace the loved ones that I can, emotionally embrace those who are distant, and open my heart to feelings of peace, joy and love. 

As we head into a New Year, may we all find bright spots of happiness to light our way when the road is dark.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Still Searching for Laughter

Thanksgiving was only two weeks ago, yet seems a longer time than that as, as once again, we are reeling in the wake of senseless violence. The overwhelming horror and frequency of these events make us feel fearful and helpless. As our nation, and the world, works to find solutions, we all do what we can in our own circles. For me, sharing laughter is not a way to lessen the seriousness of recent events or ask anyone to ignore them. It is a way for us to lift our spirits and lower our stress and fear in order to go on with our daily lives. It helps us feel closer to each other and find a common ground. As Alan Alda said, "When people are laughing, they generally are not killing each other." May our laughter help this come to be true.  In that spirit, I share with you the laughter I have found in the past two weeks:

On Thanksgiving, family members gathered at my sister’s house. Another sister and her husband came up from Virginia. A nephew drove in from Kentucky. Another nephew, on leave from the Marines, was there. Also, my daughter from Philadelphia, two nieces from right here in New Jersey, another niece from Pennsylvania, a complement of significant others and a baby who represented our growing family. Missing from the throng, but still close via text and phone, was a niece stationed in Pearl Harbor, my son and his family out in Iowa and my daughter and her family spending their holiday with her husband’s side of the family. These gatherings are a time for laughter, storytelling and lots of great food. This year, we played a word and drawing game around the table and laughed so hard we cried. I was reminded of how much the family has bonded with laughter over the years. I went home with a sore belly and a happy heart.

Days later I was working on a project to clean out my storage shed and find things suitable to take to auction. I opened a lot of boxes that brought back smiles and memories. One toy, a Disney playset from the Lion King was in perfect condition. I brought it over to my New Jersey grandchildren and was delighted to see them play with it, laughing. It was as much a gift to me as to them.

On the day of the terrorist attack in San Bernadino, I was booked to speak about Laughter Wellness at a Lawyer’s dinner. The tragedy was still unfolding as I was getting ready. I felt tentative about the appropriateness of a laughter presentation on such a day.  The knowledge that mass shootings and other violet acts seem to be occurring almost on a daily basis weighed heavily on me. I often add some of my own feelings and experiences after 9-11 to these talks and mention how laughter is a healing force, even in grief. I remembered how Viktor Frankl wrote that laughter and humor helped those in concentration camps endure. Still, I was feeling unsure. I checking in, via the Internet, with colleagues at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic humor and got some wonderful advice and support. I took my own advice about “smiling even when you don’t feel like it,” and ended up having a wonderful experience with over 50 participants.

The next day was the auction, and I drove my boxes of stuff to the auction house. On the way, my toll ticket for the turnpike fluttered down from the visor, floated past the side of my head like a feather, and disappeared into the piles of auction stuff. I knew that stopping to search for it at the tollbooth would cause nightmarish tollbooth traffic jam complete with honking horns and impolite hand gestures aimed in my general direction.

So, I pulled into a rest area, expecting to find the toll ticket between the seats. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the floor of the car in front of the passenger seat or driver seat, and not under the driver seat. I now realized that I was going to have to take some boxes out of the front seat and some off the floor in the back to search more crevices.  To add to the fun, it was also raining.

Finally, I spotted the toll ticket, under the passenger seat, standing on its side, wedged into the seat bottom. How it had performed this acrobatic trick was a mystery. It was out of reach from both the front and the back of the seat, unless I did one thing. That one thing was to kneel down in the parking lot, and put my arm and my head inside the car in the space left in front of the back seat by the folded down back of the seat. This placed me in a precarious position with the possibility of getting stuck with my backside jutting from the side of my car while rain poured down. Fortunately, I didn’t get stuck (thank goodness for my recent weight loss!).

When I finally arrived at the auction house, I parked my car and wheeled everything inside and started setting up.  After a while someone began shouting for the owner of a grey car. My car. My car that was somehow now sitting in the middle of the street in front of the building, blocking traffic. The driver of a big truck was scowling and looking for the idiot in the room who owned the car. OK, my mind is not so bad that I actually left my car like that. But apparently, I hadn’t pulled the emergency brake up high enough and left my 6-speed car in neutral the perfect recipe for a freewheeling car.  The rest of the people setting up their tables at the auction had a good laugh when I returned and told them what had happened.  And since there was no damage done, it was easy to laugh at myself.

Since that day I have been doing my best to balance the tears that often result from the seemingly unending assault of bad news with smiles and laughter; either at the real absurdities occurring in my own life, or as we learned in Laughter Yoga and Laughter Wellness laughing for “no reason” just for the health of yet.