Between laughter and tears

Over the last year, I’ve noticed that I have this really odd tendency, when something really tickles my funny bone, to fall into an uncontrollable fit of laughter that then erupts into tears.  I’m not sad or upset. But suddenly, tears are tumbling out of my eyes as free as the laughter bubbling from my throat. My laughter intensifies as I try to stop the fit and I start to sound like I’m hyperventilating or something. It’s actually a little embarrassing. I really have to struggle hard to stop thinking of the catalyst that incited the laughter and try to force calm upon myself. Meanwhile, I’m wiping tears from my eyes that I’m trying to hide. And at the end of the fit, I feel the same as I do after a good cry. It’s very baffling.

An event like this happened just a few weeks ago at work. During a training class. It was a stupid joke that made me laugh. We were working on a lab, building a template in the software, which is one of the hardest things to do in our product, and so someone had named their template something I found intensely funny, even though it was a little dumb–“It’s not a tumor, it’s a [insert the type of thing we were creating].” For some reason or another, I just found this incredibly hilarious. And the floodgates opened. While a few people found the joke cute or slightly funny, they were baffled by my over-reaction to its cleverness. I was too.

Then, a week later, while conducting a demo at work, I started giggling about something else (I’m always getting playfully ribbed on by coworkers at my job), and it reminded me of the “it’s not a tumor” incident, and then I fell into that fit all over again. Once again, I was met with baffled faces, though everyone was slightly amused how easy it is to get me started on a fit. I had to calm myself down again, try to focus my mind on the task at hand, and relax. I managed to stop; however, I felt as though I’d had a good cry throughout the rest of the meeting.

These laughter fits, while entertaining, have got me thinking about how there seems to be a very blurry line between laughter and tears to our physiology. Both seem to come upon you at inopportune moments when you least expect them, sometimes just randomly out of the blue. You can never predict singular thing is going to make you laugh, nor can you often imagine what event will make you burst into tears. I think of this in terms of my widowhood, at least in those first years, where the littlest thing–a smell, a song, a place, or even the ghost of a feeling–could push me over the brim into a fit of fears. I still get spells like that, only now it’s more just a sweeping feeling of nostalgia or sadness.

I’ve noticed I laugh more these days. I’ve always been the kind of person to laugh easily, find humor in even the most serious situations where I was supposed to be somber, and so it’s not a huge change. However, more often than not my laughter easily evolves into these new laugh-cry fits. I’d like to think that it’s because I become swept up in the moment. Maybe a little too swept up in the moment, true. But at the same time, I went through periods of time for a while where I didn’t laugh for days. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I’m just allowing myself to live in the moment and appreciate things as they are. Maybe I’m just a little more open to finding humor in life.

There is a line from the U2 song “Get On Your Boots” that has been ringing in my head ever since I started thinking about my laugh/cry fits:

Laughter is eternity if the joy is real.

It’s a really beautiful thought. Like a weight lifted off my soul. Finding even the smallest bit of joy in a moment–real, utterly honest joy–brings a relief of laughter that–though brief–can not only improve your day but significantly change your outlook about everything. It brightens your day, gives you hope, relieves the heavy tension that weighs on your heart from the darkest, toughest moments of your life. I like to laugh. I welcome laughter. When people see me laugh, I only hope that they view me a light-hearted person. I’d rather be seen that way than solemn and serious. I’ve had enough of serious, solemn, and sad. It’s time to laugh. Even if said laughter makes me cry at the same time. But isn’t that really a statement of life? Laughter and tears; tears and laughter. We’re always on the brink of one or the other. Joy and sorrow are so closely intertwined like the yin and the yang. We need both to appreciate life.

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