You’re sitting on a 14-hour plane ride. Just as you’re about to doze off, a roar of laughter erupts two rows behind you. Some guy with his headphones on is watching Everybody Loves Raymond, laughing away to glory as if in his own home. ‘What a weirdo,’ you mutter under your breath.
That weirdo used to be my dad. His headphones were his wings, teleporting him to other worlds and times. He would laugh out loud, and I mean LOUD. From the pit of his stomach, unable to control himself.
As a child, I would look down and pretend I didn’t know him, lest anybody guess the strange man was my father. As a teenager, I’d look at my Mum and together we’d roll our eyes. But as I grew older, I began to envy him.
I envied his abandon, the way not a wrinkle of worry creased his forehead at the thought of being ridiculed. If someone did muster up the courage to tell him to keep it down, he would apologize with a smile, and laugh just as hard with his lips sealed.
I opened up his diary today to find a clean page with just four words: “Unburden yourself with laughter”.
It came almost as an order: Go. Unburden yourself with laughter.
As parents especially, we take life very seriously. We harbor responsibilities. We constantly face challenges. Things are always demanded of us, and the best is always expected of us.
It’s easy to be young and carefree. But to be old and carefree–now that’s an achievement.
My father used to love old British comedies, but he’d also have a chuckle at Ali G. Homer Simpson was his favorite father figure, and he thought Garfield had mastered the art of perfect bliss.
It’s not what makes you laugh, just the fact that something should. Humor is sometimes the strongest weapon we hold.
Other South Asian parents often thought it a little childish that my father enjoyed cartoons and collected Simpsons memorabilia. But a few began to understand why.
Life is ready to punch you in the face. You can either hit the ground and cry, or you can “roll on the floor laughing” and get back up less burdened.
If your children see you laugh at yourself, they will understand that sometimes things go terribly wrong, and the best we can do is shrug our shoulders, hope for the best, and move on.
For my father, laughter was surrender. It was his way of saying, “Ok God, so be it. Throw me a curve ball; I’ll smack it so hard with gratitude and happiness, even you’ll be sorry you threw it.” And it’s not that the challenges stopped coming his way, but just that each time they hurt him a little less. And strengthened him a little more.
Because he knew how to laugh. He knew how to be happy. Not ha-ha happy just on the outside. But truly happy, so that he had the ability to sit in a room full of hundreds of people, and laugh out LOUD because Homer Simpson had farted.
It was his way of showing his family nothing would ever happen that they would not be able to overcome.
A smile will always creep back on your face. And even amidst deep sadness, a moment will help you forget your sorrow. You will hold your stomach and laugh. And you will laugh and laugh and laugh. Until the tears start falling from your eyes, and just as in this very moment, you won’t be able to differentiate between the pain and the joy.
Go. Unburden yourself with laughter.