Some families like to discuss current events. Some families like to argue. Some families like to complain. Some worry. Some nag. Some ignore each other. My family likes to laugh. And I’ve realized it is the greatest gift I could ever have been given.
My maternal grandparents lived 45 minutes from us, near the shores of Lake Michigan where my mother was raised. She had been the adventurous one, moving out to the “big city”, whereas my aunt settled comfortably near her parents. We were far enough away to live our own lives, but close enough to get together frequently. We spent every holiday together, crowded around the beautifully crafted dining room table built by my great-great grandfather, which now sits proudly in my home. One glance at it brings a smile of remembrance of those holidays, Sunday dinners, or frequent summer weekends, when we found ourselves driving over for the beach and a meal.
My grandfather was the head jokester, whose conversations were peppered with made-up words and people. He’d say he was “persteepling”, instead of “perspiring”, was fond of giving noogies (before SNL made it popular), and would quote Fred & Louie Nitney frequently. No idea who they were or what that meant, but it didn’t really matter. Here was this “macho guy” – an award-winning high school football/baseball coach and athletic director, and a minor league baseball player – being silly, and I adored it.
I had no real idea of what was ever going on in anyone’s life, because as a group, we never really talked about it. Instead our dinner conversation generally included some type of sports story, or maybe something one of us kids were up to. But no matter what the topic, it would invariably devolve into roars of tear-inducing laughter. By the time you’d catch your breath, you would have forgotten why you were laughing. It just felt so good. It connected us and made us feel like everything was all right, at least for the moment.
Life has taught me its share of hard lessons. I had to learn on my own how to deal with external problems and internal feelings. It was not that my family didn’t feel – quite the opposite – but no one had the skills to talk about their feelings. Those kinds of things were acknowledged silently, and you moved on. Learning to live life on life’s terms wasn’t always easy for me, but I’m grateful now for the situations which forced me to understand what was real, what was important and what was not for my highest good, and how to navigate it all.
But the greatest gift I’ve received remains the ability to find the happiness, the fun, and the laughter in the dark places. During this isolation, I know I have a choice: to spend hours focused on the misery, fear and frustration, or to focus instead on what is uplifting and positive and makes me feel good.
Laughter is the best medicine. My family taught me well, and I’ll choose that cure every time.