“You grow up the day you have the first real laugh – at yourself.” Ethel Barrymore
There are lots of different kinds of laughs. Chuckles, guffaws, titters, giggles, roars, snickers, snorts, and they all describe the reactions that take us beyond smiles. This past week I had a good laugh with a former student I taught sixteen years ago over something silly I used to do at my school.
The middle school where I spent my last eighteen years teaching had two Lees, me, Mrs. Lee in sixth grade Social Studies, and Mr. Lee in eighth grade Social Studies. Most students assumed we were married and so we played along. Each time we passed in the halls we would greet one another, “Morning darling,” or “Hello dear.” If anyone asked we told them the truth, but otherwise it was just a running joke that brought a smile to a sometimes very stressful environment.
Fast-forward to this past Tuesday evening when I attended a presentation by a young lady I taught in 2003. It was a great opportunity to catch up with her, to see one of “my kids” grown and starting her music therapy business, and to learn more about a topic I was interested in. She was endearing, spoke eloquently, sang and played beautifully, and captivated us with stories from her chosen profession. The program ended, she spoke with several attendees, and then as I stepped up to introduce myself her eyes popped wide and she exclaimed, “Mrs. Lee!” and gave me a great hug. We laughed together and I told her how much I admired her talent and how proud I was of her utilizing it and especially of her service with dementia patients. She asked if we live on the north side of our community because she sees Mr. Lee every once in awhile. I told her yes, we’ve been here for about twenty-five years. We finished our conversation, shared hugs once more, and I left. As I started my car I wondered how she knew my husband.
And then it hit me. That silly little joke Mr. Lee and I used to play, was still rolling along, and I laughed out loud. For just a split second she was that innocent little 11-year old, taking in the world around her and organizing her understanding of it according to the evidence she observed, and I was an adult in her life, sharing a morning greeting and a laugh with another adult, oblivious to the questioning eyes looking up to us. And in her mind, we have been connected all these years, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, Social Studies teachers at the local middle school. I pictured her imagining us grading papers together, eating dinner together, riding to and from school together. And I laughed again, loving her as a child, making sense of her own little world.
I circled back through the parking lot. Her husband was standing there talking with a couple of folks who had attended his wife’s program, and I briefly told him the story. Because he had previously been a teacher at the same school, he knew Mr. Lee and me as well, and this brought him a good laugh also, since he had questioned our status when he first came to our school as a teacher. I asked him to shed some light for her, with her, and set straight what had gone amusingly awry all those years ago.
It wasn’t a belly-laugh. We didn’t roll around with tears streaming down our faces at the hilarity of the situation. We simply shared a humorous reaction to a mistaken assumption several years old. It was a light moment, a joyful and peaceful moment, and those moments always come with the hope that there will be many more to follow.
May we all be able to laugh more at our mistakes and at ourselves, and live always expectantly watching for joy and the next reason to smile.