Sunday, January 13, 2013

A funny thing happened on the way to everyplace

We are in the car coming back from a hike with the dog, and my sons are in the back seat playing a game they are both destined to lose: The no laughing game.

“OK,” Jack says, vainly attempting solemnity. “Starting now, no laughing.” A few seconds of silence, then some agonized gasping. And then, of course, giggles followed by shrieks. Each boy accuses the other of sabotage.

“You made a face!” and “You’re not supposed to touch me!” and “No fair farting!” Then they reset to try again.

“OK, OK, OK,” Ben says, panting. “Seriously, seriously. Starting NOW.”

This is hopeless, of course. Hopeless. And maybe my favorite thing in the world.

Those boys laugh pretty much all the time, and they come by it honestly. My husband won my heart by making me laugh and my dearest friends are all utterly hilarious. One of my favorite humans on the entire planet is a woman who makes me laugh so hard that we have created a whole new verb to describe our method of communicating: Yellaughing.

“Is your husband ready for this?” I asked her as I prepared to fly to California for a visit this past fall. “Does he really understand about the yellaughing?”

Wow, we were so loud. And he was such a good sport. The day I left, he posted on my Facebook wall: Our house is too quiet already…

Humor is pretty much the dealbreaker in all my relationships. If you cannot see the absurdity of this life, and of all of us, and of everything about absolutely everything, I really won’t get you. And you really won’t get me. And I’ll just go ahead and sit at that table of people over there who are getting dirty looks from everyone in this place because they are laughing too much. They look fun!

There’s only so much room for all that yellaughing in one house, though. My husband is not a yellaugher or a laugh-shrieker. Jim is quietly, sneakily, wickedly hilarious.

On our accidental first date in 1996 -- a mountain bike ride -- one of the guys in our group made fun of me because I had not tucked in my cycling top. “I can’t because I have such a weirdly short torso,” I told him. “I’d have to tuck in like three feet of fabric. I’m a stunted little freakshow.”

Jim’s face tilted in a warm half-smile, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “Yeah,” he deadpanned, frankly appraising my 24-year-old form. “I’ve been thinking this whole time that you’d be really beautiful if it weren’t for that short torso.”

OK, y’all. Do you see what he did there? He managed to make a gentle, genuinely funny joke about my neurotic self-image AND tell me he thinks I’m beautiful without coming off like a creep or a critic or a smartass. He made me laugh – at him and at myself – and he managed to make me feel pretty while he did it. Then, when we finished our ride, he turned out to have a cooler of beer in the car.

Look, if you don’t marry that guy, I do not know what you are thinking.

He hasn’t changed much in the ensuing 17 years. I recently texted him petulantly from a four-hour meeting: Ugh this meeting is so long…

He fired back: I give up. How long is it?

Y’all, people don’t like it when you start giggling in the middle of their four-hour meetings. Don’t do it.

I know, of course, that it can’t all be gigglefests and yellaughing. Our lives are full of all the usual difficulties for all the usual reasons. But I always know when we’re drifting into real trouble because the laughter tends to go quiet. It’s a reliable sign of danger. And it’s one I’ve learned to take seriously.

Those times, while blessedly rare, are a powerful reminder of the gifts we receive every time we laugh together.

It’s really kind of funny how much funny matters.

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