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Danielle Tumminio

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National Debt, War, Cancer and the Blessing of Laughter

Posted: 08/20/11 05:19 PM ET

It seemed like God was frowning down at me a few weeks ago. It began when doctors performed emergency surgery on a dear friend to remove all of her reproductive organs ... only to then tell her that she had cancer.

Now, this friend and I have a somewhat unique bond: We met in our college Glee Club when we were housed together on a singing tour, and we immediately connected over our raucous laughter. It's debatable who laughs louder -- mine is a bizarre giggly-cackle while hers is more of a full-bodied chuckle. But regardless of who wins the Grammy for Best Guffaw, we discovered our connection one evening -- at a reasonable hour, of course -- with a knock on the door and this announcement:

"Um, we can hear you laughing down the hall," the tour organizer said, as she tilted her head and popped her gum a little too loudly.

That was almost ten years ago. Since then, we have chortled in six countries, ten states, two continents, and countless cities. We have laughed over dates gone wrong and embarrassing workplace fumbles, bad haircuts and bad hair dyes and a bad muffler that caused us to spend a day stuck at a Bronx gas station with a gay gas attendant and a CEO who watched Ricki Lake and passed colorful judgment on people who had intimate relations with their relatives.

Yes, we've laughed a lot.

But last week, I found myself trying to laugh with my friend in a very different setting -- at the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston as she began chemotherapy. Suddenly, she couldn't have children, she had no control over her body's reaction to this intense medicine, and mortality became a more sensitive conversation topic than it had been in our glee-filled Glee Club years.

No, there wasn't much to laugh about.

Realistically speaking, my friend and I aren't the only ones with little to laugh about. Our country's -- nay, our world's -- economic and political news did much to put a frown on all of our faces recently. Consider some of the things weighing down our hearts, minds, and smiles:

1. As a nation, we have a lot of debt.

2. Because of said debt, Standard and Poor's lowered our credit rating, which was like a first grade teacher taking away the coveted gold star and putting the U-S-of-A into the corner with a dunce cap. (Aside: Isn't it ironic that credit is determined by an agency called Standard and Poor's? I wouldn't want my credit to be either standard or poor.)

2. We're involved in a lot of wars.

3. The wars are expensive (see #1).

4. People die in wars.

5. Statistically, about one in ten of our friends are unemployed.

6. Our homes aren't worth as much as they were five years ago, and if we rent, our rent is worth too much.

7. Healthcare is expensive (see #1).

8. Republicans and Democrats can't seem to learn the lesson that "Sesame Street" teaches to four-year olds daily: Cooperate (see all of the above).

Not so easy to find a good laugh in that list, is it?

And yet, in the past few weeks, I have become even more firmly convinced that sometimes laughter is the greatest blessing we have in stressful times. And from a Christian perspective, perhaps God wants us to laugh in those moments when pain seems to be the only thing we feel. After all, the author of Proverbs says that a good wife is one who "is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come" no matter how traumatic they are.

From a Christian perspective, then, there is something healing in the laughter we share with those we love -- with our soul mates, our mentors, our families, and our friends -- that cannot be measured by a doctor or scientist. It's not the kind of healing that ends wars or cures cancer, but it's transformative nonetheless.

Consider whether our nation would be sporting a frown if, for one minute a day, elected officials and newscasters and underpaid teachers and overtaxed parents and cancer patients laughed.

Just consider that.

It could turn "God bless America" into God blessed America.

Last Friday at Dana Farber, my friend said that she was worried about her hair falling out. "I know it's materialistic," she said. "I know it'll grow back. But it's one more thing I can't control, and I kind of feel like maybe I should just shave it all off, you know, so at least I can control something."

"Do you want me to shave it off with you?" I said. "Then you can go as Britney Spears in meltdown mode for Halloween and I'll go as Sinead O'Connor."

She began laughing so hard that she had to raise a hand to cover her mouth, which made the IV machine start to beep.

"That's awesome, but you don't have to do that," she said, talking over the interrupting IV.

"Well, the offer stands ... although I reserve the right to go as Brit Brit instead. That way I could test out my personal alternative to the priesthood: troubled rock star."

As she laughed harder, the IV machine increased in volume, a kind of medical musical accompaniment to our giggles. When a nurse came in to adjust it, she looked us both over and said, "So nice to hear some laughter in here." Then she adjusted the machine, smiled at us, and left.

So, did laughter cure my friend's cancer? No. Does it mean that her heart -- and the hearts of those who love her -- won't feel like they're breaking over the next few months? No, it doesn't.

But I will say that in that one moment, it was a blessing. And I believe that God was laughing beside us.

 
 
 

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