My mother’s side of the family is inflicted with a terrible condition. We get tickled and laugh uncontrollably at desperately inappropriate times. We’ve suffered long and hard with the affliction, to no avail of the torment.
We are a family who has spent more hours in the pews of churches than I care to count. We gather often and always join hands in prayer before a meal. We have been passed on the legacy of music, helping others, and the serious study of God’s word with fellow believers.
And in each of the aforementioned settings, we have combatted bouts of hysterical laughter to the absolute disgrace of anything sacred or pure.
One such instance was just a few weeks ago. I was staying with my cousins in Durham for a few nights while I attended a conference. It was on a night that their Bible study gathered, so they invited me to attend. I hadn’t met any of their friends so the leader asked me to introduce myself. I said “Sure! I’m Christi Anna and I’m Kim and Kelly’s husband.”
So, apparently I was looking at Kelly’s husband when I said this, and instead of ‘cousin’, I said ‘husband’. Well..that was it. Kim and I struggled to regain composure throughout the entire study. I was so tickled, I didn’t even ever correct myself. Mass confusion.
This scenario plays out in a variety of ways. Sometimes the only trigger is being together. The most troubling aspect of this affliction is that the more inappropriate the setting, the harder it is to regain composure.
The scene: Christmas, 1998. Candles are lit, decorations are hung, table is set. Super cool teens decked out in Abercrombie attire stroll in late. Grandmother begins to read a devotion the Lord laid on her precious wonderful heart about the joy of the Christmas season. Jason and I get tickled for no apparent reason and the absurdity of our disrespect propels the laughter to an all-time high.
We are scum of the earth. Desperate for her forgiveness, we return to beg for mercy at her feet. Apologizing profusely, feeling absolutely miserable that after all of the hard work she put into making Christmas special; we laughed through the most meaningful part.
The scene: Thomasville Friends Church, 1991. The six of us cousins are singing a song my Grandaddy wrote entitled, “Jesus, a Lover of Sinners”. Someone put gum on someone else. We got tickled and couldn’t really finish the song. My Grandaddy, y’all. Could we be worse?
The scene: Anytime in my adolescence. I was overly dramatic and emotional. <shock> When I was passionately expressing my opinion to my mother about the color of dress I needed to have for the spring fling or how immaturely my brothers were behaving, she would outright giggle at me.
I get it now.
The condition has been especially difficult in parenting. Michael has had to ask me to leave several discussions with our children on account of my laughter. Sometimes their defenses for their behavior or their facial expressions or their choice of vocabulary strike me funny. And I’m no use at all in the discipline. I know it. He knows it.
If I feel a bout coming on, I duck my head and try to keep my body from shaking. It takes strength. I have suppressed so much laughter that I actually have somewhat defined abdominal muscles without engaging in a vigorous workout routine.
As mentioned, the condition is genetic. We get it honestly. My mom and aunt began telling stories about their days at John Wesley and singing in the choir. As representatives of the school. And of Jesus. They told of the time my dad came in on the wrong note with great zeal and volume, to their absolute shock and to the end of anything holy. They were preforming an EASTER cantata. The crowd decided to release Barrabas, instead of the savior of the universe, and my aunt was cackling in the tenor section.
Serendipitously, I now teach at the same institution. I wish I could say that there is a professional exemption from this illness. There is not. One of my students was leaning back in his chair this semester during class. I was giving a lecture on social reform. The chair gave way and he hit his head on the back of the cinderblock wall. I was initially concerned. Once I saw there was no bleeding, I started giggling. I regained composure, but 10 minutes later burst out laughing again….mid sentence.
And now my kids have it. Josiah has an especially debilitating case. He’ll say, “I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but my body won’t stop. I really don’t think [people falling, people farting, any word associated with the bathroom] is funny.”
Maybe I will outgrow this. If I look at my genetic history, however, it seems unlikely. My Grandmother used to complain that Granddaddy would have bouts of laughter during the night, which shook the entire bed, waking her, because of something that happened during the day. He would giggle and she would roll her eyes. It was frequent.
I have this solace. At least laughter is positively correlated to longevity. My Granddaddy is 93 years old. And a cancer survivor.
It is as the Proverb says, I suppose, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
So, in the words of a really cheesy product, “Have you laughed today?”