My drug of choice

By Chris White
Reader Contributor

“What do you think, can he handle this pitch?” 

“No, he’s too little to handle that much heat.” 

“Ahh, let’s see what he can do with it.” 

Moving it back and forth from ear to mouth, I am talking to a wiffle ball. I hear the first giggle. I windmill my arm and then flail around like Leonard Bernstein conducting a Wagner crescendo before lobbing the ball to my 4-year-old grandson standing 15 feet in front of me. He is poised, ready with his plastic bat on his shoulder. He is looking for the pitch; I am looking for something else. As I’m winding up I hear the most wonderful sound: high-pitched, uncensored laughter — pure joy to my ears. This sound reaches to my core with high vibration. It seems to caress my very soul. He smacks it and, with unbridled laughter and squeals, runs hard for our first base tree with me in hot pursuit, loudly narrating the action and his fate should he be tagged out. 

Tango the Tiger is always ready to earn a laugh. Photo by Chris White.

A base hit for him; a home run for me. 

Then it’s a repeat back to home plate with him begging me to, “Talk to the ball, talk to the ball.” His laughter, and any hearty laugh given or received, is like a drug I am happy to be addicted to. Overdose? Yes, please! 

Supposedly children laugh some 300 times a day versus 15-20 for adults. Whatever the figures, children laugh exponentially more than us grown-ups. Personally, I manipulate the numbers to my favor by mostly listening to stand-up comedy in the car and absorbing doses of news from the comedic talents of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. Laughter is a common human denominator, a universal language spoken everywhere on the planet. We can all communicate and connect through it. It dissolves awkwardness; it helps build trust. 

Laughter truly is good medicine. Medically, scientists tell us it releases happy endorphins that reduce our anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduce pain and cool inflammation. I once had an unexplained, uncontrollable 15-minute laughing fit with a small group of friends that left me extraordinarily rejuvenated — as if I’d had a turbo, full body/mental/emotional cleanse that bordered on a mystic experience. 

I won’t Google more in-depth facts about laughter because — like orgasms — I like the mystery and amazement of it; the delightful magic and wonder that remains in the aftermath. It is sacred territory. I don’t want to know how the trick is done. 

Spontaneity is the key. Whatever wit and humor I have I treasure and try to nurture. Its high value is important because it taps into my fondest childhood memories before real life intruded. Hilarity brings me back in time. It is also important because facing our complicated world without being tempered with some degree of humor is terribly grim. Humor is a critical relief valve that can bring us back from the brink of despair. 

Not only laughing myself, but listening to any hearty, genuine laughter immediately clicks my current mood into a higher gear of happiness. It’s immensely satisfying to see spontaneous smiles break out on everyone present. 

Whatever rift was going on in my childhood family dynamics was dissolved by my sister’s penchant for hysterical laughter. I try to keep the tap open, harvesting laughter when I can: my son and I are deadly serious about pranking each other. Getting a previous girlfriend to snort when laughing was a highlight of my day. Hearing my grown children belly guffawing is true bliss.

Children especially draw out laughter, and I have a fruitful target. I spend worthy time thinking of ways to get the free-range laughs out of my grandson. (I am lucky enough to have a granddaughter, but her age is measured in mere weeks, which makes her currently quite useless as a playmate. Soon, she too will be making these golden sounds). 

Besides the usual chases around the house (you’ve got to contain those quick little legs) and wrestling, I have a hand-puppet named Tango, a tiger capable of many things. He’s a good listener and always kind, plus a useful third wheel who can join the conversation and create fun. 

Tango recently popped up from the front seat with a pickleball paddle in paws looking for a game, causing peals of laughter from my car-seated grandson in the back. When the day ends I know I’ve again embraced my own inner child when my daughter appears at the door with hands on her hips and exclaims, “Both of you need to settle down now!”

Laughter is a free and powerful gift to mankind — an essential ingredient to our lives in which we can all actively partake. It inexorably connects us like the air we breathe. As long as it is delivered with no intent to harm, it is a pathway to all things good in the moment and a uniquely sweet doorway to memories of our past innocence. 

May we have many more spontaneous guffaws.

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