catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 18 :: 2009.09.18 — 2009.10.01


25 grams of laughter

The belly laugh is the best way to evacuate anguish.
Jean Vanier

One of the reasons I love working where I do is my co-workers’ ability to laugh — not just to make me laugh, but to laugh.  I’ll be sitting in my dark office, staring at the all-too-close wall over the glow of my computer screen, trying to perfect a sentence before I even waste the effort typing it, when suddenly, the room is illuminated with a chorus of roaring, screaming, gasping laughter.

Sometimes, I’m in on it-like the time we watched a particular YouTube video over and over again, finding it funnier each time.  After about twenty minutes, wiping tears from our eyes, we returned to work, still chuckling.  I suppose we could feel guilty about wasting precious paid time yukking it up with YouTube — like we were scarfing down dessert behind mom’s back while we should have been eating our lima beans.  But I generally contend that people, including myself, feel guilty about too many things, spending time in laughter being one of the big ones and eating large pieces of chocolate layer cake with butter cream frosting being another.  The two might be compared to each other in a number of ways, in fact, but I’m not so sure it’s the best analogy.

I appreciate Jean Vanier’s choice of words in saying, “The belly laugh is the best way to evacuate anguish.”  As any avid watcher of the television show The Wire should know, the word “evacuate” often gets used inappropriately, as in, “The fire department evacuated 120 people.”  If that were indeed the case, the fire department would have quite a different sort of mess to clean up.  When people are evacuated (evacuate comes from the Latin word vacuus — “to make empty”), they are emptied of waste.  Most often that’s a normal, natural process — a little unpleasant in some ways, but part of the Creator’s incredible design for living things.  We eat.  We poop.  And we do it all over again.

Laughter as evacuation is a great image.  It’s a flushing of waste in a process that’s ultimately essential to our nourishment. It’s something we need to do on a regular basis and we suffer greatly if we don’t.  And it’s less like chocolate cake than it is like fiber, which ought to make us question a response of guilt and reconsider how we might actually consume more rather than less of it in our personal and institutional lives — even on paid time.  I guess laughter is a sort of wasting time after all, but not of the sort we may automatically tend to think.

So watch some Eddie Izzard and get regular.  Make a date with a friend who helps you digest your anguish.  Get together with your family or friends and play a ridiculous game that makes you laugh so hard you almost pee your pants.  The powers that be recommend 25 grams of fiber each day for a normal diet.  In fact, our collective, long term health depends on it.

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