Laughter

Do you see linkages throughout your day? Ways that seemingly unconnected events form a cohesive whole? I do…yesterday for instance. Over a six-hour period…every word true…
The keynote speaker asked us to close our eyes and take a deep breath. I did. On the second breath, he asked if, when we exhaled, could we laugh? Timid laughter began, then silence. *Again* he asked, and this time the laughter was more free, more cheerful. *One more time*; and now it sounded genuine as laughter filled our room. He pointed to what we have long known: laughter is a healing force. He asked that we begin our day with this exercise; and that throughout the day, we look for chances to laugh.
Mere hours later, I get on the train to come home. Just in front of me, three young people are rehashing the day’s events; apparently they triggered a case of road rage during which their friend was literally choked by another driver. From across the aisle an older lady interjects her opinion that the rager might have been scared out of his mind by the triggering event: a football crashing into his windshield, a receiver thankfully not crashing into his bumper at the last second. As that conversation wound down, the man in the group of three continued to talk with her. As she told him that she had been a high school history teacher, then a lawyer, and had finally retired to adopt and care for her only son, the two ladies of the group began to laugh hysterically over a youtube video of people projectile-vomiting. At least that is what I think it was, based solely upon their comments.
The young man told the older lady that he had just, the day before, passed an exam that meant he could now apply to medical schools. She asked why he wanted to be a doctor, as Obamacare has lowered the amount of money they can earn. He said he’d always wanted to be a doctor, especially since he had been a Boy Scout. She offered that her son, now 12 years old, was deep on the path towards becoming an Eagle Scout. He said he hadn’t quite made that, he fell just short. She said her son was on a mission: his cousin had gotten Eagle just two weeks short of his fifteenth birthday, so her son wanted to beat that. “Sadly”, she says, “I won’t know if he will reach his goal. I have brain cancer, and less than a year to live.”
I look sharply at her; I see no outward sign that she is or even has been ill. He asks about an operation; she says she’s had three and the next one carries a 70% chance of leaving her unable to walk or talk. She’s not interested in living like that, she says, and so she’s just making her arrangements and saying her goodbyes instead.
Her phone rings, she excuses herself and takes the call. It is her mother; they chat for several minutes as she recaps her day. At one point she replies to the unheard question that she *didn’t bring it up and no one asked how she was doing*; she says she didn’t feel like having people cry for her out of pity. She soon hangs up and the young man says “I’m jealous: your mom calls you”.
“Just get brain cancer and I’m sure she’ll call you every day, just like mine” she says. The train pulls into a station, and the young man and one of the ladies, who he now introduces as his sister, stand to disembark. After standing up, his sister heads to the exit while he leans down just inches from the lady’s face. They speak for a moment, too quiet to be heard from six feet away. Then he touches her on her shoulder and walks away.
Immediately the two newly-vacant seats in front of me are filled by an older couple. As the train begins to pull away from the station, the remaining young woman laughs once again, still focused on her phone. The older man asks her what she’s watching; she says she’s streaming an Australian comedy from her Netflix account. They begin to discuss TV shows, and find one that they all like. Or did at one time; the young one admits she grew bored with how long it was taking to get to the climax. The older lady offers a spoiler alert and then describes how near the end, the father in the story is told he has less than a year to live because of cancer. He then kills the man who was abusing his daughter; so that she would be able to have a better life after he (her father) had died. “The judge took pity on him and only sentenced him to two months in jail”, she says. “I really like that he did that”, she says.
I look over at the real cancer victim. She is staring out the window, face impassive. Maybe she’s wondering what murder or scandal she might commit, now that she has such a close date with death. Maybe she’s weighing the difference in world views between the few who truly understand that we all die and may die sooner rather than later and the majority who don’t understand, or even think about, death at all. As the conversation on my side of the aisle drifts to other shows, she pulls out her phone and begins to swipe. Once we are past another station, she begins to smile as she focuses on her phone. Then the smile broadens. And suddenly she bursts out in laughter, only to cover her mouth and stifle it with her hand after hardly a full second. And I think: what a blessing, laughter. It heals us in so many ways.

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