After one of the best Thanksgivings in recent memory, I couldn’t help but think about how much I laughed. There were so many moments where I struggled for breath, when I clutched my burning stomach, when I fought through the lack of oxygen to add to conversation to keep the comedic ball rolling. I laughed harder than I had in some time, or at least it felt that way, but the truth is that I laugh a lot. I laugh a couple of times a day at least, and you’ll almost always find a smile on my face. I discovered long ago the power to laugh even in the direst of circumstances.
Years ago, I found myself in a friend’s car on the periphery of our college campus. It was a fall day, and we’d either just visited some friends, or we were coming from their apartment. In the cab of the car, one of my friends told a joke, and after we got the laughs out of our collective system, I remember turning to one of my friends, and saying:
“I have to laugh while I still can.”
He looked at me crookedly and asked what I meant. I’m not sure what the exact answer was, but it was something to the effect of, “I know my Dad is not well, and I know that life is only going to get more serious. Laugher will be in short supply, or I might not feel like laughing at all when it’s over.”
I was anticipating a challenging and arduous journey in the near future. I was anticipating having to become another person. The life event I was about to experience would turn my world upside down, and I’d never be the same. I was worried that there would be no joy in my life, and that it would be impossible for me to find the humor in things. Laughing is such an integral part of who I am. To think of a life without it, I’m just not sure that life is worth living. I’ve met self-serious people before, and I don’t know how they make it through this life.
My prediction never came true. Life did get more serious, but I never did. Sure, there were days were I felt raw and miserable. There were days where I had to turn off my favorite TV shows because what was normally funny just didn’t hit me the right way, but that feeling never lasted long. I never stopped trying to find the humor. I never stopped trying to smile. Part of the reason I’m still here today is because of the ability to laugh when the situations aren’t obviously funny. You may have to look a little harder, but I promise you that the humor is there, just waiting for you to unearth it.
As I stood in the receiving line at my father’s wake, I cracked jokes the entire time, trying to keep everyone loose. At most of the wakes I’ve been to, the family seems loose and the wake itself is never as sad as you thought it would be. Maybe that’s because a wake is less formal. After all, the funeral is where things get more somber. That’s when the organ plays, and whoever is eulogizing or officiating is saying heartwarming things about the deceased. That’s when it gets truly sad, when there are no words, when the jokes kind of fade away because it would be rude to crack one. Out of deference to the deceased, we keep quiet, and that’s how it should be, but I can’t help but think that’s why the funerals are so devastating, or maybe it’s because funerals are the last chance to say goodbye.
When you lose someone who’s important to you, it’s important to remember the good times that you shared with them. It’s crucial to remember the jokes they told, and the times they made you laugh, whether they meant to be funny, or more importantly, when they didn’t mean to be funny. I’ve held onto so many of these moments, so many of my Dad’s funny sayings, and it’s really helped to keep his memory alive in the best possible way. I love so many of his strange/dated Midwestern sayings, and I still smile when I think of him.
In one of my grad school classes, we broke up into smaller groups to review and answer questions about a case study. I can say with almost 100% certainty that I did not complete or even start the assigned reading, as I knew we would not be graded on it. That’s the type of student I could be at times, especially when I started making friends and going out on the town. I’d do just enough to do well, but I’m not sure I ever exceeded expectations unless I really loved what I was doing.
In that smaller group, I offered up a joke that wasn’t my best, hoping to lighten the mood. Not only did the joke not land, but I was also greeted by a savage scowl on the face of the girl directly across from me. She may have wanted to kill me in that moment, and although I can’t say I blame her, it seemed like an overreaction.
Okay, I get it, we were all paying a lot of money to be there, and many of the students were either professionals, they had dreams they were trying to build up, or both. Still, I couldn’t help but think that this girl was taking the whole thing too seriously. She was beautiful, and yet I knew we’d never have any sort of relationship or even a friendship. She was full steam ahead, and while I understand that mindset, I’ve never wanted it for myself.
At my new(ish) job, I found myself holding back, especially when I was still an intern. I was trying to impress the people I worked with, in hopes that I’d eventually be hired. I was stressed, and still working my other job at the time, and I didn’t feel like I could fully be myself. I didn’t feel like I could let out the puns and the jokes that make me who I am. I still hold back sometimes, since I do want to be taken seriously, but I also want to maintain my identity and who I’ve become as a summation of my experiences. I want to be a professional, but I also want to be Adam.
Laughing is a rebellious act. Life only gets more serious as we age, and for me, laughing is a way to push back against the negativity that weighs so many of us down. I hope that I never stop being the person I am, and that I never take myself too seriously. When I stop laughing, that’s when I’ll be truly concerned. I’m not sure any of us would be here if it weren’t for laughter. Life can get so brutal, so incredibly challenging. A little humor can induce a smile, and smiles are infectious. I hope I never stop enjoying a good joke, or having a good time with friends and family. When the laughter stops, I’ll know something is seriously wrong. Sometimes, I laugh because I think something is funny, and sometimes, I laugh because I don’t know what else to do. Thanks for reading.