Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A little foolishness goes a long way

2 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me!
One of my greatest wishes is for a house filled with laughter. From the uncontrollable giggles of a baby being tickled to grown children sharing stories around the dining room table in the wee hours of a holiday morning, I hope dearly my children appreciate a good joke, are eager for one more repetition of an old family tale and come to learn the simple pleasures of making one another laugh in good fun.

I want this to be the case because it seems I grew up in a house where laughter dominated the soundtrack. This made sense to me, because every time we made our regular visits to see my dad’s parents, or when they came to see us, we laughed even harder. It wasn’t like sitting down for a “Three Stooges” episode where we knew precisely how and when the funny would come (though we do love our Stooges), but it was organic, reliable, gut-busting hilarity. Family members know well how to push each other’s buttons, but that need not have a negative connotation. Sometimes the button you push makes the audience go wild with laughter.

That smile will be in my memory as long as anything.
This is not to say my mom’s family was humorless — that’s far from the truth. It’s just that my dad’s dad had a way of making everyone laugh. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “Oh, Doc…” in response to a particularly good quip, and no one has ever made my dad laugh as hard as his father could — and my dad finds an awful lot of things to be humorous. I’m not going to fully break down either man’s sense of humor or recount particularly memorable anecdotes (but hang around us sometime and they’re sure to spill out), but suffice it to say there’s not much more I enjoy in life than being with family and laughing until it hurts.

I don’t quite get the humor sensibilities of my kids. They make me smile, chuckle and guffaw on a daily basis in the way they speak and interact. But they don’t quite get jokes yet, and they’ve not fully learned when I’m pulling their leg. Sight gags and pratfalls work fairly well, but my wife doesn’t think it’s funny when I wear silly hats and I’m not quite built to slip on banana peels all too often. Still, we find ways to bond through laughter — even if that means watching an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” we’ve already seen and laughing despite the lack of surprise.

The most difficult thing about loving deeply someone who seems to live to make you laugh are the days when neither of you can muster a smile. Obviously a strong relationship goes far beyond the good times, but when one party is so wrecked by something — physical, emotional, whatever — the absence of joy in the room is wrenching for everyone.

In the years after she suffered a stroke, sometime the only way we could get my grandmother to stop her uncontrollable weeping is to shift quickly into joke mode. Before long her tears faded into laughter and everything seemed almost the same as it ever was — and I for one was happy to ignore the gap between almost and truly.

With my grandfather, the gradual decline in his mental faculties meant eventually our visits weren’t about hearing a new joke or having one last chuckle about a well-worn story. At times it seemed the worst part was feeling he could sense his own limitations, like he knew he was supposed to be contributing more to the conversation but just couldn’t make it happen.

But then a funny thing happened: we had a son. Born nearly 81 years after his great-grandfather, Jack became the light in every room he entered. As soon as he was able to control his own facial emotions, he was fantastic at smiling. His laughter was contagious. Toddler Jack was not the easiest kid, but when he wanted to charm someone, of any age, he was a master. And still is, in many ways.

But in those early days, when my grandfather was on the opposite end of the life spectrum, he absolutely adored Jack. They didn’t need to know each other’s name. It didn’t matter that neither one could string together a few intelligible sentences. When they could make eye contact, perhaps over one of Jack’s toys (or anything that made a funny sound), they could communicate — and laugh together.

This wasn’t magic. Jack didn’t unlock an octogenarian’s dementia, and Grandpa Doc couldn’t “get” the toddler on some level beyond what his own parents understood. But it was wonderful beyond words for me to see my grandfather’s smile. He was able plenty of times to tell me how special it was to see the little guy, and even when he could no longer find those words I could still read it in his face when they were together. I’ll never forget how that man made me laugh, and I will treasure forever the times I saw my young son do the same for him.

One of my greatest wishes is for a house filled with laughter. I can close my eyes now and think of dear relatives, those we don’t see very often and those I’ll not see again in this life, and the first image that comes to mind is a smile, their sense of humor, the things I’d rush to tell them if they were in the next room.

We don’t laugh because we love, nor do we love because we laugh. But a little foolishness goes a long way toward making life enjoyable. There is plenty of time to be deeply serious. But there’s just as much reason to get lost in hilarity. If I’m doing anything right at all, my kids will learn and never forget their great-grandfather’s legacy of laughter.

A prayer for June 11:

Lord, you have blessed me so richly in so many ways I can’t begin to thank you for all of them. When I go to sleep tonight, my head will be filled with visions of those beloved family members who have gone ahead. Their voices have been silenced here, but their stories live on in the people who loved them. Please help me to carry on those memories, to learn the lessons they taught and to live accordingly. A loving family is among the greatest gifts, and I want to make sure I am giving my all to keep ours strong. Amen.

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