I am holding my grandson as my daughter enters the room. I watch as he shrieks and lets out a belly laugh. He loved his mama even before he has words to express it. And there’s something else – he already knows how to laugh.
A few years ago I was working on a project called “People Profiles” for my job at a busy healthcare organization. The goal of the project was to create informative one-page fact sheets representing some of the ethnically diverse groups in the greater Boston area. These would then be used with healthcare providers to help them better understand how to serve patients who have differing views of health and illness.
It was an interesting and challenging project, mostly because for each people profile I had the privilege of working with someone from that specific country.
China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Puerto Rico and more were my world for a few weeks and the people who I worked with were amazing. The personal and informational things they shared were invaluable, not only to the project but to me. I learned about immigration patterns and warring groups; gender roles and views of the elders in community; herbs and teas; tiger balm and hot/cold theories; dual causality and fate. The writers worked to educate – initially me, but ultimately future readers of the profiles – and help us think beyond the surface so that we could learn to give excellent care.
One of the people I worked with was a lovely Sudanese woman named Shahira. With beautiful prose she helped to write the “people profile” on the Sudan. She helped to give personality to a place I knew only from limited interactions with people in Cairo, where Sudanese, as a marginalized group of refugees, have struggled. They live without a country and at the lowest levels of society.
Shahira began the people profile with a proverb that I will never forget.
“Our wasted days are the days we never laugh.”
I was struck by this for a couple of reasons. One was my appreciation for laughter and humor to get me through the difficult times, what Madeleine L’engle calls the “Holy Gift of Laughter”. The other was the contrast between what I knew and read on the fact sheet, and the proverb. It made no sense. How can people laugh when they have faced war, rape, starvation, and other untold horrors? What can possibly be the foundation for the resilience of their human spirit through such times, allowing them to see this proverb as representative of their spirit? It makes my difficult times look like a hot day at Disney world when the lines are long. Uncomfortable and not pleasant, but when compared, embarrassing.
These are the times when I am utterly confident that we are created in the image of God. There is no other explanation for the resilience that many refugees show in the worst of circumstances.
To be able to face tragedy and continue to laugh is a gift that our world needs. It is something we can learn from those who have faced far worse situations than many of us, yet continue to laugh and find joy and meaning in life.
I think about this proverb today. It is grey outside and heavy rain splatters the pavement. People hurry to get to dry spaces and buses and subways are more crowded. Our wasted days are the days we never laugh – in my mind the rhythm of the phrase goes with the sound of raindrops. And in the middle of the grey and the rain, I remember my grandson’s laughter.