"...(R)elieved to be at the stage where she could laugh about it."
I read the line again, from a David Sedaris essay in the New Yorker about living in system with addiction. His friend Ingrid was sharing a story about her father, having lost his driving privileges because of his alcoholism, rode a tricycle to the village pub. I commend the article, which you can read here.
She had reached the stage where she could laugh.
Laughter, the deep, genuine laughter, is one of the stages of grief. The stage of redemption and resurrection that surprises us.
Laughter, in some form, accompanies us through all our grieving. Different types of laughter. I knew exactly what Ingrid's laughter sounded like.
Not the beginning laughter, when we are still shattered into so many pieces we're not sure if God will ever collect the shards and mold them back together in our souls, where we laugh because we're desperately fearful we'll never laugh again. So we laugh as we cry, or we laugh as a guardian for our weeping that will most surely spend the night and the next week and the next months or years.
Not the laughter that's tentative, because we are very focused on the intellectual explaining of all things traumatic and awful. That reasonable laughter that comes only through a forced smile and nod as we tell the person across the table from us, "Oh, it's not so bad. After all, God always has a reason, and the Alzheimer's has brought us all closer together," and we grip our coffee cup a bit tighter so we can say those words with any level of belief. Then, to add our imprimatur of forced truth, we end with a slight laugh.
Not the laughter that's a downright lie, because we're so exhausted from the trauma and grief and sadness and we are quite sure our friends are tired of our wailing, so we laugh to pretend we're okay, to let them know we'll be okay, even when we are in the midst of the mud and sinking slowly into death.
Those types of laughter are all stages of grief, too. I've been there, offered every one of those laughs up as a prayer of desperation, lamenting, and I'm just done with this shit, God, so make something, anything, funny.
And then one day, we laugh THAT laugh. It's got a bit more effervescence to it than the others. And it will always come when we least expect it.
My laugh surprised me. The relief stage laugh usually does. While at a church conference, I encountered a priest who knew me when I was serving in a church where bullying and abuse were the course of the day. The diocese where we both served wasn't much better.
We sat down and caught up.
Then we remembered when. We recalled the stories and events and personalities of that time, none of which would be fodder for a "How to Do Church Appropriately and Safely" presentation by the Church Pension Group.
And we laughed. Because somewhere in the work of the Spirit, forgiveness and reconciliation with the past happened. We didn't need to hope for resurrection anymore; we were living it. Our laughter was the sound of life. We didn't need to explain intellectually how the church had cut into the tissue of our souls with a rusted knife and left us to bleed but that was "okay;" we had been wounded...and we had been healed. In fact, we showed our scars to each other, told more stories, and laughed some more. We didn't even have to pretend all of the trauma didn't happen.
It did. It had. And we had broken through to the laughter of resurrection.
I wondered, if after my encounter, I laughed because laughter was a way to minimize the pain. Maybe so, I thought. Then I read about Ingrid and her laughter.
And I knew. I knew the feeling and the sound of the laughter of relief when the past and its pain aren't curled around my soul, constricting the bubbles of the Spirit's laughter. I know that laughter is genuine, not denying our suffering but filling it with something of wisdom and experience instead of heaviness.
This laughter, this rush of the vivacious Spirit, is one of relief, that Jesus was right and forgiveness and reconciliation do come in their time. That time may be weeks or months or years. Often, this laughter comes after much hard work and self-reflection. This laughter is born in the mud and muck of grief that is experienced and not rationalized. Then, one day, we encounter our past in a surprising way.
And we may be relieved and surprised to be at that stage where we can laugh about it.