Saturday, October 22, 2011

The gift of laughter

Yesterday I found myself in a state of delirious laughter throughout my day.  I was exhausted... the week had brought some late nights and early mornings due to relying on one car and other work-related and haircut-related events.  And although at times my fatigue can make me a cranky, difficult-to-be-around type of person, it seemed to turn me into a gurgling baby who laughs at the slightest gesture or silly face.  My students had me laughing hysterically when they told me my new haircut made me look 'young' and 'hip'... so my previous look was old and homely?!  Or as I waited for Ryan to pick me up after school, I had tears in my eyes as some of the fellow teachers and I reminisced about funny moments over the last few years including some pretty hilarious Halloween costumes and related awkward situations.  It made me appreciate that even when things seem stressful, exhausting or frustrating, laughter can be the best medicine.  I was just reading a great article from NCR entitled "We laugh because we know who we are" and one little story particularly struck a chord with me:
'We lose our tempers and our dignity and our way. We misspeak, misstep and mess up. If we live long enough, we end the way we began, wearing diapers and eating baby food, waiting for someone to change and feed us. Pretty funny, when you think about how much time we spend protecting our dignity, our appearance and our position.
I remember a night years ago when my father was as angry as he was drunk. He resolved to go up to the bedroom he shared with my mother and lock -- really lock -- the door. He would show us. To that end, he grabbed a hammer and a can of nails. He weaved his way up the stairs, yelling at us that we would no longer be able to make his life a living hell, or words to that effect.
My father slammed the door. Soon, we heard the sounds of nails being hammered into the doorframe, mingled with the sounds of the hammer missing the nails and hitting the wood.
Now my parents’ bedroom was a large single space above the two-car garage. I don’t think the builder planned it as a bedroom, since it had neither closets nor an adjoining bath. Its primary virtue as a bedroom was its distance from mine.
The evening had been long and loud. My mother and I were tired. We stood silently at the bottom of the stairs, listening to the sounds of wood splintering above us.
I was about to turn and go to bed when my mother gestured towards the stairs and drawled, “Un-huh. Just wait till he needs to pee.”
A beat, then I started to laugh. My mother started to laugh. We looked at one another and began to howl, full out eyes-watering, nose-running, snorting laughter.
I don’t remember how long we laughed that night, but I do remember how the gloom evaporated and the power of my father’s wrath was destroyed. I think it was the image of my father pulling out the nails, one by one, in a race against time (not to mention his bowels and bladder) that dispelled the sense of his power.
Free men and women laugh. They laugh because they know who they are, and who they are is not God, upper or lower case. Indeed, laughter may be the surest way to know and acknowledge one’s place in the cosmos, one’s place as creature and not creator.'

Though the story is obviously heart-breaking in some respects, it also celebrates the power of laughter and joy and its ability to overcome suffering and anger.  One of my favorite writers of late, Fr. Jim Martin, just published a book about the importance of laughter and joy, particularly in the spiritual life.  He makes the connection that humor shows hospitality, and we can make people feel welcome by laughing together.  What a simple, and yet insightful point to make.  Often when I am teaching about specific areas of sexuality, I have to pause and point out the fact that some of the words are just so awkward to say, and it helps to break the ice and sets me at ease (and hopefully my students!!).  Fr. Jim created a mini-video about an experience he had while traveling in Africa and how humor made him feel comfortable among strangers in a somewhat awkward situation.  Check it out here.
As life continues to unfold and I realize that much of life is out of my control (often to my dismay), I find myself better suited to laugh than to fight against it...  It might be laughing at the amazing dance that Ryan and I do in imitation of a Patriots player (it involves doing criss-cross motions with your hands over your knees while simultaneously kicking up your feet- one at a time- and staying on your heels-- just ask me to do it, preferably in a crowded public place) or watching someone really get down, singing and dancing to music while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, or just laughing at myself... my ridiculous attempts to be 'edgy' and 'hip' and act like I know any of the pop culture references my students make... or when I tried to do a difficult yoga move this morning and flew off my mat and fell on my face!  Amazing.  And, the teacher reminded me, you've got to fall a few times before you can fly.  So you might as well just have some fun while doing it!
I got to spend some time today with a good friend who is in the dredges of graduate school, internships and residential ministry.... in the midst of all the intensity, she attended a workshop on Friday about humor in the spiritual life.  I am totally jealous of her, but for now, I will just have to thrive off of the wisdom of Jim Martin... here's another little nugget for you!  Enjoy

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How do we react when our enemies fall?

Hearing the news that Moammar Gadhafi had been captured and murdered in crossfire between the government and loyalists after airstrikes, I felt mixed emotions...  I want to rejoice for the people of Libya in their quest for freedom and perhaps even some type of democratic society in the future, yet I feel a bit uneasy at the thought of celebrating someone's death.  I went to and immediately a video started to play, showing a bloodied face, presumably Gadhafi, being moved in a convoy moments before his death.  Is this the "right" way to respond to the death of a person?  Why does our media provide the images of people, hated criminals most often, in the moments leading up to their death?  I'm reminded of the video that leaked after Saddam Hussein was hung, or the debate about whether the images of Osama bin Laden after his death would be released by the US Government.  Why do we want to see?  Does it bring some sense of gratification or perhaps satisfaction in revenge?  Or is it the sense of comfort we feel, knowing a person who is responsible for the death of hundreds, even thousands, and the downfall of entire societies can do more harm?  I remember several interesting articles in the days and weeks after Osama's death- reacting to the instantaneous 'joy' across the nation and across the world...  people tweeted, blogged and updated their statuses with shouts of victory over 'evil'.  What is our Christian response to this reality?  In a great piece in the Huffington Post, one priest remarks how he felt after Osama's death: "So is it possible to be happy and sad at the same time? I believe it is. The very human emotion I was feeling last night was joy that he was dead. The very Christian emotion I am feeling today in the light of day is one of sadness that a life is lost and a feeling of relief that the one who brought terror to so many has been brought to justice. The rest of what I am feeling will just have to work itself out."
I guess I just need to let it work itself out then? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Finding Hope

If you turn the tv on or open the newspaper on any given day, the news is often full of doom and gloom: The economic collapse both locally and abroad, the continued spread of religious fundamentalism and violence, corruption in the public and private sectors, a local human trafficking ring prosecuted, and I won't even mention the demise of my beloved Boston Red Sox.  In the midst of this reality, how do we find hope?  Is it by turning off the television, ignoring the news and living in a bubble of ignorance?  There are days when I think this is the best option, and find myself opting for the 'ignorance is bliss' mentality.  But it can't be avoided.  My husband is one of those statistics that are thrown around on the news when talking about the economic collapse: underemployed... in debt... starting out in an economic climate that is less than appealing.  So, where is the hope?  I find it in the people who tell their stories of starting out in similar, or even worse conditions and have seen the downturns and eventual upturns.  This historical reality helps to put things in perspective, to know we are not the first young couple starting out, struggling to make ends meet... and to remind ourselves that it will get better, things will change eventually, and the key is to not lose that elusive hope or let the stress turn us against each other.  A couple of years ago, I responded to a blog post about 'recession romance' and recently re-read part of my response that was published on Busted Halo: "And remember Ryan and Katie, who were wondering how to pay off law school loans, and whether to postpone their autumn nuptials? Well, Ryan applied to hundreds of legal jobs, networked, all to no avail. So he branched out: “I am happy to report that he now has a job as a supermarket manager — a paycheck and health benefits!” writes Katie. “In the end, this brought us closer than I could imagine. We realized as a couple what is really important to us, what we can live with and without. We also realized at the end of the day, we can control very little about the world, but we can control how we take care of one another and that has made all the difference.” I wish them all the best in their upcoming marriage!"

Well, we just celebrated our two year anniversary with joy and gratitude, and a little bit of anticipation about what the future will hold.  Continuing to learn about ourselves and each other is a joy-filled journey and when coupled with patience and love it is working, even in the face of stress and uncertainty.  Oh, and Ryan is working in the legal field (hooray!) nowadays, clerking for a judge and preparing for the next step.

Whether its economic realities, our health and family members' health or our job stability, there are many elements we can not control in life.  It's accepting our lack of control that can begin to free us, to find hope and to see the bigger picture.  I think it is also helpful to hear stories of triumph, of people overcoming odds and coping with difficult situations.  "Good News!  No, Really!" is a hopeful look at the reality of life in areas that have seem extreme suffering, corruption and hopelessness through the years... but even in the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. 

Focusing on hope and the power of the individual, one of the first people that comes to mind is Aron Ralston.  He is the inspiration for the film '127 hours', about his experience of being trapped in a canyon and eventually amputating his arm after facing death through dehydration.  Holding on to hope and not giving up certainly determined his outcome.  The movie is amazing and intense (I had to look away for the some of the most graphic amputation scenes...) but it captures the strength of the human spirit and the ability to survive (and even thrive) in some of the most bleak circumstances.  Ralston also learned to always let his family know where he was going when he takes off for a hike!

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."
-Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


It has been a painfully long time since I have blogged and I have missed it, to say the least.  The freedom and opportunity to process in an open forum, make meaning out of my experiences and do some 'wandering' is a blessing of the blog-experience.  And people at work have started reminding me of my resolutions (to listen more and stop talking- thanks Ann!) and called me out on the lack of blogging.  It feels good to be called to accountability, and to remind me of something I committed myself to this summer...  So I thought I'd take a little time to reflect on the act of appreciation because I've found myself in the last few weeks losing sight of it, focusing at times on causes of stress and insecurity instead of appreciating the blessings and sources of life, love and joy. 
I brought myself to yoga tonight, excited about a (free!!) class focused on the theme of 'ignite'.  It had been awhile, and one of the quotes our instructor shared at the end of class was about appreciating- appreciating a full moon, or the little crescent when it starts again, a kiss, laughing at yourself, and the list goes on...  The many things that fled through my mind as we practiced 'corpse' pose... literally laying on the mat in darkness like a corpse for quite some time, what I appreciate: 
1) the laughter of my students when I describe myself as hip and edgy
2) the excitement in Ryan's eyes when he samples a fresh batch of beer for the first time (pumpkin was brewed this weekend!!  can't wait to drink that in a few weeks)
3) the supportive community at school who encouraged the development of a faith sharing group
4) the older sister who sat next to me for the first gathering of the faith sharing group and held my hand
5) how excited my doggie is when I walk through the door even if I am particularly late
6) spending the weekend with family and laughing so hard I cry, several times...
7) being told that someone believes in me.. and then believing in myself
8) listening to the radio on the way to work, and every song that comes on makes me sing along
9) hiking in the woods and watching a hawk swoop overhead
10) chocolate and peanut butter, together in glory!
Living with intention means taking the time to smell the roses, to appreciate and focus on the positive blessings in my life.  This has been a great reminder of what it's all about, and I will go to bed with a smile on my face when I think about these, among the many others, blessings I appreciate in my life.