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.



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