Present mirth hath present laughter.
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty.
~ William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2; Scene 3
The days of confinement roll by and I lose track of their names. We try to keep to our routine and maintain the semblance of purpose in our choices, but, frankly, there are moments when we wonder if the daily cleaning, whose turn it is to vacuum, the choosing of what to wear, or what to eat, matters at all.
The slightest and most unpredictable exchange or event can make me cry…but, while I’m aware that the stress, the crushing weight of the unknown, and the hours spent puzzling out what reality will look like in years to come leave all of us exhausted and wobbly, I have to admit there are many things about our days that keep us laughing. Tears and laughter border the knife edge of reality these days. Lately, we call a lot of our responses, “Laugh-cry!” (™)
I remember being part of a group of friends who cared for the first one of our beloved circle who was dying from AIDS, back when only one doctor in our large metro area was even willing to help him, and very few other healthcare workers or community members would even think of providing care to someone with AIDS. We were a fierce, loyal group of loving pioneers, and proud to be present to our friend’s needs, but a higher level of stress traveled with us, as it does when we care for a loved one who is ill.
My friend and I were sitting together one morning, sharing tea, chatting, and watching some inane program on television, when he grew silent. I looked at him and was surprised to see him staring at the television screen, transfixed, weeping. I looked back to the screen and realized that my witty, worldly, dying friend was moved to tears by a commercial for lemon-scented furniture polish. A fantasy housewife danced in exaggerated euphoria around her home, dusting everything till it glowed in fake golden light and was readied for family and guests. The music swelled as she prepared for gatherings and holidays my friend wouldn’t live to experience and that momentary realization vibrated deeply for him. Always ready with tears, I joined him in mourning his losses, our losses, the losses of the world.
And then we looked at each other and we both began to howl with laughter. An advertisement for furniture polish had set us off truly and genuinely, but we both recognized the absurdity as well, and after the tears had balanced our emotions and biochemistry, as we are told they do, we couldn’t help but laugh, which deepened the moment’s healing considerably.
The memory echoed for me this week when I found myself crying in response to a scene from a sitcom. There was no logical reason for tears; a woman character was sitting with her friends, sharing coffee and jokes. There was nothing about the writing or function of the scene that was designed to elicit sadness, but the superimposition of long weeks of confinement and the absence of my own friends triggered tears, and more profoundly than I expected a moment or two before. I looked at Phillip and he said something gentle and loving, and then we both began to laugh. (“Laugh-cry!™”)
The yin and yang of tears and laughter are so evident these days. Both need to be experienced and honored, as they were in the dark humor that surfaced when I worked in the hospital, or that often emerges at wakes and after funerals, when the family gathers to reminisce. More often these days, I am grateful for laughter and the restoration of joy.
Yesterday, I told Phillip my previously very short haircut was growing out into a hideous and strangely medieval mullet. It reminded me of a portrait of Martin Luther crossed with early Rod Stewart…I could be nailing my theses to Wittenberg Chapel and singing “Maggie May” while I did it. Either/both would look appropriate, and so we both laughed, and laughed again when we realized both of our haircuts were growing out at a similar rate and we were turning into one of those long-married couples that resemble each other. (However, Phillip looks like a handsome 70’s rocker; I remain vaguely c. 15th century. “Laugh-cry!™”)
Last week, as I prepared for a video meeting, I believed I’d rather successfully hidden my unattractive hair in a cleverly-wrapped scarf, allowing only my weird bang growth to remain visible. Good friends wouldn’t care what I looked like, but the meeting was with people I find charming and lovely, but do not know well, so I thought I’d best make an effort.
The meeting began and everyone’s face rimmed the center of the screen, looking glowing, attractive, and healthy…and there was my head, looking like Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen, wrapped in a scarf and utterly bloodless, no matter how I gently shifted or turned the screen. I could not lessen the blinding light that reduced my face to a brilliant white plane with black holes suggesting the eerie, decorative placement of eyes, nose, and mouth, and the anticipatory sense that I was about to launch into a Kabuki performance at any moment. Needless to say, Phillip and I laughed outrageously as I described it to him later.
And, grateful as we are for all restorative mirth, a houseful of 4-legged companions has also kept us laughing enough to stay mostly sane. One of our little girls, Teagan, has always surprised us with her ability and desire to leap upon a blanket and somehow burrow into it, creating a perfect nest, from which she peers out at the world as a character we call Sister Mary Teagan.
In the past few weeks, though, perhaps in her own response to the changing energies of our confinement, she has initiated a nightly routine, always at about 7:30 P.M., training me, as they all have done, over and over, for years. (I am a good girl.) My latest trick involves Teagan standing before my chair, hopping on her hind legs and waving her front paws in a manner both pleading and commanding, ordering me to pick up a blanket, spread it over my lap, and say, “Banky time?” (As though dogs understand English to begin with, and then even more clearly if it’s spoken in “baby talk.” But this has become a necessary part of the ritual, as ordained by Teagan.) The trick has evolved and has now become predictable, much like the pups’ Morning Party. Teagan, and then her sister, Gracie, jump up onto the blanket and wait for me to wrap them up, and then they lie there, spoiled and cozy, till bedtime.
I have no idea how this started, but it makes us laugh every night. In our new Liturgy of the Hours, I suppose it’s somewhere between Vespers and Compline, a sweet funny blessing that rounds out our day and settles our moods for the coming sleep that will restore us and prepare us for another day of mystery, tears, and the laughter that keeps us mindful and balanced.
May joy be always at the ready for you. May you cry when tears are appropriate and find your way back to laughter and the comfort provided by beloved companions, friends, and the solace of memories no darkness, sorrow, or fear can ever dim.
And may the surprising evolution of your hair growth provide endless entertainment. (“Laugh-cry!™”)
It’ll all work out, my friends; all shall be well.
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