I believe in laughter. Laughter that chortles, burbles and finally erupts into body-shaking joy. The kind of laughter that occurs when it's not supposed to - you know, unexpectedly during a really serious meeting or when sadness takes a mirthful turn. There is always the hilarious absurd chance encounter with people you don't know, or a situation that calls for decorum, but you just can't help yourself.
Recently, I was with a small group of family and friends visiting museums in Washington, D.C. The afternoon sun was waning. A cold wind was buffeting sightseers on the Mall, and we were slouching our way towards the Metro. I knew that my rambunctious 7-year-old daughter had had only a few adoring hours to spend with her sophisticated 24-year-old stepsister and the parting might be difficult.
As only a first grader can, Gabriella spied the merry-go-round first. I figured one spin on a brightly colored dragon would be a good way to end the excursion and delay, just for a few moments, the inevitable goodbyes.
I had planned just to buy tickets for two. But my friend Becky insisted we all get on board. So, in front of well-heeled, heavily-bundled spectators, we mounted our garish steeds. The moment the tinny music began and the merry-go-round lurched forward in its journey to nowhere, we all began to laugh. We waved to the parents trying to get magical photo moments of their kids. We hooted and guffawed as we accidentally joined children in their incredible ability to be in the moment. No past, no future, just pure joy and peals of raucous laughter.
I laughed in spite of the fact I was tired and cold and sad to see my beautiful stepdaughter slip away into the busy world. I laughed because unlike those serious parents too cool to actually ride a painted horse, I was lucky enough to be in the moment and imprinting the memory on my heart.
But most of all, I laughed with gratitude for the gift of looking like a fool and loving every moment of it.
I realize now that laughter has been a cornerstone of my life. Over the years, whether I should have or not, I have laughed uproariously with hospice patients and preschoolers, nuns and politicians, strangers and lovers and sometimes, just by myself.
I believe I am the most human, the most vulnerable and the most giving when I share the gift of laughter. And I believe it is good to belly-laugh often while clinging to this merry-go-round called life.
Juneau resident Claire Richardson is a former journalist and is working toward her master's degree in pastoral studies at Seattle University.