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.

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