Last night was one of those sleepless nights, the kind of night that saw hour after hour saunter by my bed in no particular hurry, throwing me a look of disdain, thumbing its nose at me, even snickering under its breath. I pretended not to notice, pretended I had planned to be awake most of the night solving world problems. I got up several times to distract myself from wanting to sleep, hoping sleep would descend on me like a virus. I crawled into my comfy chair and read from Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence, an apt title for a wakeful night. I listened to Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her Wiser Than Me podcast as she chatted with Carol Burnett. Carol is 90 years old and is beyond inspiring with her clear memory, sharp mind, and hearty laugh. Life has issued her a share of heartbreaks, the way that life tends to do, but she dedicated her life to making others giggle and guffaw. I think most of us can recall a favourite sketch from her show, mine being the Gone with the Wind parody, complete with a curtain rod across Carol’s shoulders as she said, “I saw it in a window and just couldn’t resist,” in her pretend southern drawl. I still laugh every time I see it.
Julia and Carol discussed aging and what Carol had learned on the subject, which was the salient truth of being oneself. Carol keeps her mind sharp, she says, doing the daily Wordle puzzle from The New York Times. I do the same daily puzzle. It isn’t keeping my mind as razor sharp as Carol’s. She remembered that day’s Wordle word and her guesses. I had completed the puzzle only a few hours earlier, with no recall of the details; none. I think laughter is what keeps Carol’s brain and body in tip-top shape. She has done a lot of laughing over the years of her career and she is still working, still takes a role that interest her. She has all her original parts — no titanium hips or knees, not even her cataracts have been removed, while I walk with a decided limp, my right knee shouting “ouch” with a deep-throated alto voice most days. My vision has a slight blur to it that my optometrist says isn’t serious enough to warrant cataract removal yet. While reclined in my chair, I decided I need to laugh more. You know what that means — my book of lists, turned to the pages of “those things that make me laugh.”
There are some old entries that still qualify — three-year-old Thea standing in a bathtub covered in suds, her right arm raised over her head as she loudly declared, “Nowhere does it say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty,” a movie line that she somehow filed in her memory and spouted without warning or audience. Six-year-old Laurie being hurled through the air while shouting, “I’m okay,” having been tossed from her pony but had not yet hit the ground, determined to have no injury. Samantha’s repertoire of dramatic presentations, complete with hilarious and deliciously odd costumes. Aimee and I standing in line at Tim Hortons during a power outage and whispering about asking if anyone had checked the plug. It may not sound funny, but we laughed until we couldn’t breathe and everyone else standing in line around us were laughing too, with no idea of why. Laughter is almost always contagious. There are some new gems — washing out a measuring cup with remnants of flour in it and saying to Laurie, “This is in there like glue,” followed by the two of us bent over guffawing for the next twenty minutes. If you don’t find that funny, then you’ll not get a single giggle from my list, and it is a long one.
I thumbed through the list of laughter-inducing events and favourite jokes. That’s the thing about laugher — it comes from the child in us, the place where all happy memories go to wait until called upon. To laugh at ourselves when we err and blunder, is to forgive ourselves for being human. To laugh with someone is a joyous privilege that tears down walls and creates a bridge. As Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Now got to sleep.