Years ago, when our lives looked very different than they do now, my friend Abby used to call me up and begin the conversation with, “Alice, I’m wretched.” And then we would laugh. She would tell me everything that had gone wrong that day, and I would spend an hour laughing till my face hurt and we both wondered what we had done to deserve this goodness. This remains one of my dearest friendships, and I think that’s a central reason why. We take laughter seriously.
And when my friend Lauren and I were living together and we got stressed out we used to repeat to each other in high-pitched, giggling hysteria, “It’s fine, it’s fine, everything’s fine.” The joke, of course, was that everything wasn’t. But the indelible truth beneath the joke was that it would be fine: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. We laughed and were comforted.
When I stop and think I realize that nearly every important relationship I have ever had has had laughter seated at it weighty core. To laugh with a friend is to say, thank God you’re here and thank God all this isn’t up to us. Laughter, not derision or mockery or any thing with barbs on it, but the real kind, the gift kind, that some days begins in your eyes and some days begins in your gut, that laughter tells the truth. And the truth is that this business of being human is frankly a bit ridiculous, and we understand very little about how it really works. I mean, we get sleep in our eyes, we have toenails, we sometimes say nicer things about someone behind their back than we ever would to their face, and once I blacked out at a Walmart pharmacy and knocked into a display in full view of a crowd of people because I was too stubborn to stop walking. As I used to say about my students: we’re funny when we mean to be and funny when we don’t.
I’ve found that the people here who it’s already easiest to call my friends are the people who I laugh with, and, more than that, who are willing to laugh at me. So while laughter seems like the shallowest thing and simply the first, easiest way of communicating, used well it’s soul-baring. It can act as an admission of your own fallibility: that you’re a contradictory, limping creature with delusions of grandeur and everyone else in the room is too. So laugh.
Laugh because I wear purple tights and things that sparkle to compensate for my native shyness. (See, it works! It brings joy.)
Laugh because we’re too sleepy for this or laugh because we’re far too awake.
Laugh because we can’t remember or laugh because we can.
Laugh because we’re surprised to have failed or laugh because we’re surprised to have succeeded.
Laugh because we don’t know the words, or laugh because, suddenly, we do.
Laugh at our tears because their significance is not lessened by the reality that they will be dried in the morning.
Laugh without fear of the future.