essays

Laughter in the Right Place, But the Wrong Time

face sweatFor me and my four sisters, laughter was always the string that tied us tightly together. Letterman's got nothing on our daily coffee-talk banter or our silly family holiday gatherings. Get us together and we could laugh about mostly anything. However, many of our shared fits of laughter over the years did not always come at appropriate times. One of my earliest memories is when the five of us lined up in a pew during Lent to hear The Stations of the Cross in the old dark church in Sparrows Point. Anyone who is familiar with this Lenten ritual, knows full well that when the priest says with severity that Jesus was beaten, scorned, and nailed to the cross, the proper response is certainly not unbridled laughter.

Or there was the time we were at the dinner table and we chest sweatwere being sternly scolded by our father for something we had done earlier in the day. The proper response, again, was not uncontrolled laughter laced with guffaws of disrespect, but the angrier he got, the harder we laughed.

Then there was the time the old lady down the street slipped on the ice, or my sister backed into my mother’s car, or the time our brother forgot his lines in the school play. Each time, as inappropriate as our laughter was, my sisters and I relished this bad behavior with a fervor.

So appropriate it was, oddly enough, when four of us erupted into a frenzied burst of raucous laughter at the fifth sister’s funeral. We stood by her coffin, clearly aware of the sadness and sorrow of this scene. Yet in the midst of the solemn prayer service, all we needed to trigger a
fit of girly laughter from days of yore was a pillssimple exchange of glances among us. That’s all it took. There we were, standing with our heads bowed in front of the large group that gathered, and the laughter exploded from every pore. We knew our sister was laughing with us, which made us carry on even more. As it turns out we were spared any reprimands from friends and family, as they thought we were hysterically crying, which I guess is what we were really doing on the inside.

Every time my sisters and I think back to that coffin-side moment, darned if we don’t burst into one of those fits of uncontrollable laughter. I don't know what to say about it except, I guess you had to be there.

Susan Pompa is a PR lady born and raised in Baltmore. When she's not helping to promote computer access for people with disabilities at LINC, she travels around the globe.

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