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Davis, California

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Why I laugh

I can clearly remember walking down the hospital hall, preparing to see my friend’s dying grandfather, John. I had become attached to this gentle, kind man in the two years I had known him. His wife, Mary, met us in the hallway.

She explained how John’s condition was deteriorating. In her aged face I saw the depths of grief and an utter loss of control. Her soft brown eyes were misted with tears.

“The nurse was trying to dress him today and he sat up and said, ‘I’m just an old stubborn Lutheran German farmer!’ and then laid back down in bed unconscious!” she said.

As she recounted this incident, she began to laugh a hearty laugh, as did all those around her. When she looked up, she sighed and said, “It just felt so good to laugh.”

I believe that humor is immensely powerful. From laughter we attain a sense of freedom. When we really laugh hard, we feel overcome by joy. For a second, at least while in the act of laughing, worries are not at the forefront of our consciousness. And sometimes that second of relief is like a tiny space where we can be free. And that sacred space rejuvenates us enough to find the strength to pick up our burdens and continue onward.

The reason I write humorous anecdotes is to try to offer people that laugh-out-loud experience. If I give even one person a moment of joy, then my writing, editing and obsessing is all worth it.

I try to display real-life situations that stress personal imperfections or missteps. So much of the time we compare ourselves to others. We feel that we aren’t as polished, or intelligent, or talented, or beautiful as the person next to us. We fail to acknowledge our common humanity. Our failures, strengths and flooded toilets make us human.

If we learn to love ourselves and others despite our imperfections, we create a far more accepting, healthy mindset. We learn to embrace our messes and see that everyone else has the same dirty dishes in the sink.

When we react to adverse situations with anger or frustration, we allow negativity to overcome us. Sometimes we take our anger out on other people, damaging our relationships. We develop a sense of hopelessness. If we can laugh about at least some of the negative situations we face, we render them powerless, or weaken the blow.

I’m not suggesting that every problem in life can be laughed away. This is clearly not the case. But laughter can frequently soften pain.

When my father spoke at his college roommate’s funeral, he told an anecdote about “Krekler” that is one of my favorites. Krekler, not unlike many UC Davis students, was struggling to balance engineering coursework, school and friends. One day he came into class exhausted and fell asleep at his desk. He didn’t just fall asleep, though — he fell out of the desk and landed sprawled out on the floor in front of an entire lecture hall.

My father told this story, and a wave of laughter swept through the people attending the funeral. For a brief second, they all shared happiness. They had a communal realization that life is short. A precious memory that makes you laugh has immense power to turn sadness into an appreciation for life’s little moments. In the end, the littlest things always seem to be the biggest.

I often think of one of my favorite Bible passages about an amazing woman, that says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear for the future,” Proverbs 31:25. I love that laughter is a form of strength. It’s not just fun — it’s encouraged. It gives us the mindset to continue forward with hope.

Although stories about an overflowing toilet, or whacking a fellow bus passenger might not be earth-shattering, or written with perfect rhetoric, I hope that for some person out there these stories have given a tiny moment of freedom. I hope to deliver a little taste of happiness that helps that person continue forward through the good and bad parts of everyday life.

For more from MARCI MONTANARI, e-mail mcmontanari@ucdavis.edu, follow @MarciLaughs on Twitter, or see marcimontanari.wordpress.com.


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