We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh. —Agnes Repplier
A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laurie called from her home in Houston to check on us (I am writing this book during the Covid-19 pandemic). We talked about our families and did some “catching up,” and then she started telling me a funny story about a woman in her Sunday school class. This woman had a hilarious experience while trying to share her faith with someone on a city bus. The more Laurie told me this woman’s story, the more tickled both of us became. Eventually we were both in tears, completely out of control.
When we hung up, two thoughts hit me. First, I realized how seldom I’ve laughed lately. The pandemic is part of that, I’m sure. But I also think I’ve grown more serious and somber as I’ve gotten older. I remember getting tickled like that frequently when I was younger. I used to lose control on a regular basis and laughed until I cried frequently—and sometimes in embarrassing places like a church choir loft. That conversation with Laurie made me want to “lose it” a little more often.
The other thing that hit me is how good it felt to laugh like that. When I hung up the phone, I felt more refreshed and hopeful than I had felt in a long time. That laughter proved to be therapeutic. And it made me remember a quote I had highlighted in a book I read many years ago. I went to my bookshelf and was happy to see that the book had made the cut and was still in my collection.
The book is titled The Earth Is Enough, by Harry Middleton. It’s his true story of growing up on a hardscrabble farm in the Ozarks with two old men, Albert and Emerson. In the portion I highlighted, Albert starts telling a story and eventually is overcome with laughter: “He was laughing now, his bony chest shaking so that you could almost hear his rib cage rubbing against his skin.” Then Middleton writes,
Emerson caught the laughter, then me. How I loved the sound of their laughter, how good it was just to laugh and laugh until you hurt, how the laughter took some of the pain out of the hard moments, the ones that hacked away at you day in and day out, impervious to resolution, to any remedy except that sound of the three of us laughing, laughing until we cried.
That’s why laughter matters. Because it takes the pain out of the hard moments. Because it bonds you with the people who are laughing with you. And because there is a growing school of thought that laughter literally unleashes healing forces in our bodies. Proverbs 17:22 declares, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” Much in modern medicine seems to verify the truth of that verse.
This post originally appeared in Panning for Gold: Looking Back on a Life of Joy by Judson Edwards.