You find the kind of belly laughter, “I’m going to pee my pants” when women gather in the absence of men. Laughing is my favorite vacation from reality. Tim says that I laugh at my own jokes, but that’s because they are so darn funny. Perhaps this is in our DNA. My father loved to laugh, most of my kids, and now it’s been passed on to grandkids. I’ve noticed that my four-year-old Astrid laughs when playing by herself. She and her sense-of-humor have many joyous moments to look forward to.
My daughter, Andrea, home from college, would come running upstairs to my study and grab Jack Handey’s book, Deep Thoughts, off my shelf, collapse into the easy-chair, and start reading to me. This concluded with both of us laughing like hyenas: humor is bonding and releases stress. Ten years later, I’ll take a photo from a page in Handey’s book and send it to my other kids who recognize it as their departed sister’s favorite and remember her laugh one more time.
Andrea’s favorite Deep Thoughts: “I wish I would have a real tragic love affair and get so bummed out that I’d just quit my job and become a bum for a few years, because I was thinking about doing that anyway.” And: “As the light changed from red to green to yellow and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.”
Some of our greatest teachers have a sense of humor they work into their teachings or sermons. These are not jokes at others’ expense but those that speak to our humanity, helping us breathe easier. Humor eases tension and pushes the ego out of the driving seat for a few minutes.
Healing humor makes light of difficulties and life’s challenges. When I told my women teacher coworkers of an incredibly embarrassing moment I’d had with our boss, a wave after wave of laughter surged, and no doubt blood pressures dropped. They knew this could have been one of them and thanked their lucky stars it wasn’t.
Edith’s story: In my twenties, there were nights when I had more beer than my digestive system appreciated. A day following one such evening, Mr. Seals, the school principal, asked me to stop at his office on my way out to talk about Matt, a sixth-grade student, and a frequent topic of discussion. Not sitting down was my signal to keep the meeting short turned out to be a grave mistake. Right about when Mr. Seals explained how parents were calling about Matt’s, a boy in my class, behavior, I let out a loud fart. The shock I felt canceled any normal response as I looked behind through the closed glass door as if to say, “who did that?” My behavior implied his secretary was responsible, but the outer office was vacant. I forced myself to look back at Mr. Seals. He pretended nothing had happened and continued explaining the nature of Matt’s transgressions, and it happened again. Sitting down at this point would be seen as a defensive move, which would be accurate. My cheeks felt like pink charcoal. I was not sure of what to say, but my boss did, “Why don’t we continue this conversation on another day.”
Our relationship endured more Edith missteps, equally embarrassing, but my beer-guzzling on a work night ended. For unknown reasons, I kept finding ways to humiliate myself in front of him again and again. When I learned he’d passed away—no, I had nothing to do with that part—my first thought was, thank god my humiliations have left this earth. Not my finest moment.
Little boys tell toilet jokes that some grown men still think are funny. I recall threatening my sons if they made the ketchup bottle cut the cheese again, it would be removed from the table. Hearing their mother’s expression, cut the cheese, they laughed even more. Whoopee cushions delighted them. Some men find dumb blond jokes, mother-in-law jokes, and put down humor funny while I see them as outlets for hostility, and it sure doesn’t leave me feeling uplifted. Women say they like men who make them laugh. Men like women who laugh at their jokes. Go figure.
Perusing a little bookstore in Fort Collins, Colorado, with career daughter number three, she handed me a book, How to be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings by Sarah Cooper, who also wrote 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. “Mom, this book is so funny.” Just as Handey’s Deep Thoughts, where we find humor varies. This daughter works alongside men, so the book was quite apropos. Page 312 heading, Harassment Survival Kit at work with men: “Someone may creepily touch your face. The best response here is to jerk your head back while laughing, but beware of whiplash injuries.” And: “If someone grabs your waist, contort your body away from the hand while pretending to show your coworker a new dance move.”
After going through our days haunted by what we said and now think we should not have said and other imperfections, there is nothing like time with humor-minded women friends. In this space, there is no pecking order and no need to maintain an image. In each others’ emotive embrace, the laughter flows, and tears stream down our cheeks.
Being able to laugh at ourselves connects us with our humanness. This, in turn, grows compassion and empathy with other people. We are reminded how all of us are fundamentally equal. Leaving Ruth’s house after sharing dinner with my Sangha sisters, a sure source of laughter, I heard Eileen, “I really needed this.” “It’s my Sanity,” Beth chimes in. Perhaps laughing doesn’t increase our longevity, but it sure makes the time pleasurable.
Comfort and support prevail among women in telling stories that come from being among one’s own. This universal feeling among women depends on the shared sense of sisterhood. We tell stories about our husbands, not out of malice, but to relate, laugh, and commiserate. Instead of whining, we wine and laugh about it. It’s a shared expression of freedom, celebration, and love. When we can find humor in tough situations, we win.