In Depth: Joyosity
This is a series on Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” For more on that, check out this post.
Guidepost 10: Laughter, song and dance (letting go of being cool and “always in control”).
Much smarter writers and thinkers than me have had lots to say on the transformative power of song and dance, music, rhythm, connection, ecstatic ritual and more. All of these things are central and necessary to the human experience. We aren’t us without our songs, our stories, and our physical outbursting of joy and pleasure together.
I want to talk about laughter specifically.
I laughed as hard as I ever have at my husband’s funeral last year. I was already crying, but if I hadn’t been the laughing would have made me cry too. I had chosen a piece of music from “The First Avenger” for people to come in and sit down (because he was my Captain America). I only listened to the first two minutes or so before deciding it was fine, because really who would be listening anyway and it made me smile, that opening refrain that was so very Steve Rogers and so very my J.
My mistake was assuming two or three minutes of music was enough. We started the music far before the service began, as people mingled and talked and shared their own connections on this beautiful but horrific day. And the music just kept playing on, past the lovely little refrain and into… well, action movie music. It became very dramatic. There were Red Skull fight songs and dramatic crescendos and big kettle drum booms and explosions and quite honestly, it was the funniest damn thing I’d seen in ages. It was certainly the funniest thing I’d experienced in the two weeks since my husband had died, far too young, of leukemia. I laughed freely and loudly and I have no idea what people thought but in that moment, I couldn’t care. I could only laugh and think how much he would have thought that inappropriate music was hilarious.
The thing is, laughing and joy are intertwined so deeply with sorrow and pain that I’m not sure anyone can untangle them. I sometimes say “black humor or none.” I know it’s not like that for everyone, and some may be offended at my hilarity. The way I see it though, life is precious, brutal and short. Shorter than I even imagined. At the point I was sitting at my husband’s funeral, I felt the last bits of “what do people think of you” disappear as I laughed at this ridiculous situation.
I know there’s lots of kinds of humor. I’ve been told on many occasions that I need a better sense of humor or to take things less seriously. I’ve never been able to find the humor in racism, in sexism, in assault, and in the essential things about us that make us feel so self conscious and ashamed. When Dr. Brown talks about laughter in this guidepost, she is careful to say this is the kind of laughter that feels joyous, not the kind that hides our shame and insecurity. Not the kind that bullies another. What we’re looking for is the pure expression of joy, of the pleasure in the moment or the true connection we’re having with others. I wasn’t alone at that funeral–not at all. My best friend was right by my side, also laughing because what else could we do? It was our way of feeling all the deep feeling in the moment the only way we humanly could. Sometimes, emotions are too big for words, so we find them in laughter and in tears.
We can only do that, though, if we are brave. To laugh in this way is to risk the open, vulnerable expression of our deep feeling in the moment. When I’m that joyous, or that in pain or both (which is super weird but happens a lot), someone might judge me. Maybe some did, at that funeral. it was pretty goofy and pretty awkward. But it was also so real. I think the heart of this guidepost is the heart of Dr. Brown’s work all together–be you, be seen, show up, have courage, know that you are held in the arms of those who see you and know you and the rest are sitting up in those cheap seats. They’re not ready yet to be down with you, in the dust and sweat and mud, getting dirty and daring greatly.
If you can laugh, and cry, and sing, and dance, and be fully in the present moment with what you really are, you are truly living the life of the wholehearted.