My mother has the best laugh.
Sometimes it’s sweet and lighthearted; it practically falls out of her with delight and whimsy, as warm and inviting as an audible hug. At other times, it’s deeper and more devious, that of being amused by something she shouldn’t be. (This is my favorite, filling me with the victorious sensation that she and I are in on some dark and clever private joke together.)
And lastly, she has her acquiescent laugh. It’s quick, and unassuming, coming out as one simple “Ha” without intention. This laugh is her most profound. Because this laugh is a surrender.
She gives this “Ha” laugh sparingly, only when she’s laughing at something. Not at someone, mind you, but something: a situation, an uncontrollable circumstance in which there is nothing to do but accept, with a hearty outbreath, the incomprehensible and hilarious complexity of life. When everything is going wrong, and one’s best efforts seem to only worsen the situation, her response is with a laugh to fully accept the hardship as present and unavoidable. Her laugh is forgiveness of the very human tendency to see the whole thing as doomed in those moments. And with that single laugh, permission to release the pressure valve is granted. As if in one breath she is asking: “Is this truly a tragedy? Or simply a comedy of errors?”
This is laughter - and my beautiful mother’s - incredible gift. Laughter has the power to transform our perception of reality. Take into consideration uncomfortability; whenever I find myself admitting personal faults to my girlfriends, I tend to deliver the news with a self-deprecating laugh. As if my rendition of adulthood is so ridiculous, it’s pathetically funny. The human body, as I recently learned, often laughs when the system is overactivated. When being tickled or, for a more mature example, when we jump into a freezing cold shower. The tortuously cold water on our naked body is hardly funny. And yet, there we are, making “woooo” noises between uncontrollable laughs and jitters.
And what a beautiful gift it is; that things may become so dark and grim, we can only but laugh in response. That our bodies might be in such a state of restriction all we can do is release into our powerlessness. That a single laugh from our mouths, by will or by surprise, might release our grip in the hardest moments of our life, and completely transform them from tragedy to comedy…
On a recent psychedelic trip through the immersive Van Gogh exhibit (sorry mom), I sat awestruck as imagery of Vincent’s work was broadcast across every surface, paired to heart wrenching music that seemed to wrap itself around my limbs. Amidst the art, I dreamt of my mother, seeing her eyes in those of Vincent’s subjects and longing for her safety and wellbeing. The tighter I clung to this idea, that I might somehow protect her from circumstances outside of my control, circumstances that may be an essential part of her experience here on earth, the more I trapped myself in the illusion of self importance. As Vincent’s female subject floated off the wall and into the ether (as far as my tripped out mind could comprehend, anyway) it’s trajectory left me with a single realization: life, including hers, including my own, is but a dream. There is no such thing as being untouchable, so removed from challenges that we can relax. And though we think of laughter as a sign of our comfortability and joy, most often exhibited when the stakes are off us and we are safe to examine the profound absurdity of things, might we reconsider it to be the only appropriate response when the opposite is true? When things are so hard, so daunting, so ridiculously messed up, all we can do is let go, relax, and laugh it off?
As a people pleaser, I am quick to use laughter for the measure of making myself more palatable to others. When really, I might be better served to simply laughing at those who assume to understand the complexity of me, let alone life itself. I’d be wiser to laugh at them for their egregiousness, not laugh with them at my own expense…
As the psychedelics wore off, the lesson did not. The joke that is being alive did not. In fact, as I exited the pavilion and the whirling immersion of the lights, and colors, and sounds, I took a note from my mother’s page. With a single, hearty, “Ha”, I released physically and emotionally, acknowledging the beautiful dream that is being alive. Funny, to think we ever had control in the first place…
For my mother. I love you.