I’m not the friend who peppers the conversation with quotes from movies. I’m the one who usually stares blankly when everyone else is laughing at a quote from The Simpsons or Family Guy, unless it’s a smack-you-in-the-face famous quote for dummies like ‘I’ll be baaaaack’. So, despite being a literature-oriented person, I don’t remember quotes, and I don’t remember conversations very well either. Biographies full of dialogue baffle me – did they really remember whole conversations, or did they just make it up based on the theme? So I don’t remember the details, but I am left with vignettes – emotionally imbued settings in which significant times were had.
Picture a dormitory style campsite on a hill above the sea. A site set on grass so green due to constant rain. Communal bathrooms with cold concrete floors and the usual collection of toilet cubicles, showers with bedraggled curtains and basins with water pooled on the surface where you want to set your toothbrush down. I’m not sure if we ran into each other in the bathroom or if we went in there intentionally to chat – hey there’s nowhere else to go when you’re sharing a room with 6 others and the dining hall is locked! We were university students on a camp with our club. My friend was blond and vivacious and a great storyteller. She often made us laugh at her own expense, like the time she was out jogging and she praised the work of some men weeding the creek bed, who jokingly invited her to join them, and so she cluelessly ended up helping this group of prisoners with their community service. She could always have you rolling in the aisles with her tales.
I don’t know how we got on to this topic, but we started talking about hugs. Different sorts of hugs – the awkward ones where the tall man tries to hug the short woman who is almost at his groin level, the big bear hug, the cautious hug with limp hesitant hands stretched out and no body where you don’t want the other person to get the wrong impression about you. We started demonstrating these hugs and we were soon in fits of laughter. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in one night. This conversation must have gone on for a few hours – it was 3am and a few people complained about us in the morning. But we had surrendered to the doubled-over belly achingly unstoppable power of laughter.
We seemed to have a lot more to laugh about back when we were twenty. Many of the realities of adult life hadn’t hit yet, and if you’d had a childhood that was relatively kind to you – you hadn’t had many friends or family members die – you didn’t realise it could get harder to find things to laugh about. In my city we have a comedy festival, but I often forget to go, or when I have gone, I have struggled to find something really funny to see. I don’t find comedy very clever where the only adjective is the F word, or where everything is sexual innuendo (or just plain explicit). I crave something truly witty – cleverly constructed character and well-crafted words that will make me laugh. Not laugh at others’ misfortunes, or at the brokenness of the world. Laugh with hope. Laugh with a laughter made of light.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you laugh about, it’s who you’re with and how late it is and you’ll find almost anything funny. Playing Balderdash can bring you to tears of laughter over the ridiculous definitions of words you’ve created. Sorting fête donations with my mother we were in stitches over headless dolls and wondering who’d been chewing them last and why you would donate them for sale. Another time we cackled over books on the craft of wood burning that contained the ugliest pictures of kittens with balls of string that I’ve ever seen. It’s the people and the moments and it might sound like a cliché, but if we have an opportunity to bring some humour to someone in the day: a downcast workmate, an automaton checkout operator, a bored petrol station attendant let’s make them laugh, let’s make them smile. There are few sounds more joyful than sincere peals of laughter.