Wednesday, March 11, 2015

8. Laughter

When we're little and we make a stink face, sometimes people tell us "Don't make a face it'll get stuck that way!" If you were like me, you took this as positive advice rather than negative. I spent hours in front of the mirror, dedicating all my energy to making the most horrifying nightmare face possible, only to be disappointed when  my face bounced back to its original shape once I inevitably got a charlie horse in my neck.

Once upon a time, my aunt Cathy clarified that old saying. She told me that if you make a face, it'll get stuck that way, but it just takes a couple decades for it to show up. If you frown a lot of the time, when you're older you'll have pronounced frown lines, and spend a lot of time looking like a permanent grump. If you spend a lot of time smiling all the way to your eyes, you get glorious, beautiful crow's feet. Our wrinkles are evidence of a life well-lived. However, I think that most of us are going to have permanently furrowed brows when we're sixty, from years of squinting at our phones Hitchhiker's Guides to the Galaxy.

I have made it a life's goal to have my face be a topo map of laugh lines when I'm older. I want all the crows feet, all the smile lines, all the evidence that I spent my short time here on this earth finding and giving back light and peace rather than misery. Even so, I think that most of us don't spend enough time laughing. We have lots of serious to-do lists. If you're like me, the very nature of your profession might be very serious and involves helping people through true sadness and difficulty. We drive alone in our cars. We do paperwork. We do taxes. We spend time in the bathroom doing various tasks. We make food. All of these things can be standard, regular life things. But sometimes we are so caught up in what's coming next that we forget to let ourselves find humor in even basic living.

If you take a person, take away all the serious business, put them on a trail, and tell them that their only task is to walk north, suddenly there's a lot more brain space left to be filled with humor and silliness. Conversations can veer off into sheer imagination and playful world-building. No one needs a serious voice, except for when discussing who farted in the shelter when no one is owning up to it. There's no such thing as an inside voice, because there's no such thing as an "inside", which means that when a laugh comes, it doesn't just arrive, it ERUPTS, launching out from us with a pure explosion of joy.

I snort when I laugh. Not every single time, mind you, just when something figuratively tickles the heck out of my funny bone. I don't snort when something literally tickles my funny bone, because a literal hard poke to the elbow just gives me dead arm for five minutes. Dead arm doesn't usually make me snort. But anything is possible. Follow your dreams. Pay it forward. Tip your bartender. But I found myself snorting so much on the trail that it became just part of my normal laugh. There was so much giggling and chuckling on a daily basis that my body had to adjust to create a new expression of mirth because snorting was now standard practice.

And so it was that I graduated to the silent laugh. The laugh that punched me in the gut so hard that I would double over my hiking poles, making no sound whatsoever, taking in no breath and expelling no breath, just completely frozen in the clutches of joy. After a few seconds I would stand upright, my eyes swimming with tears, and the laugh would finally escape, alongside gasps for oxygen. I can't tell you one single time this happened, because it happened with fantastic regularity.

Here are some of the great laughing portraits that Dumptruck (Michael Wilson) took at Trail Days in Damascus!

Clever Girl

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