Monday, December 17, 2007

Belly Laughs

Belly Laughs
By John Fischer

Not long ago I spent three days in a hotel in rural Indiana. In the lobby of my hotel was a group of six women who spent the better part of a day laughing and carrying on while they worked on a sewing project together. These six women, ranging in age from fifty-five to eighty, shared an obvious camaraderie that evidenced itself in their animated conversation, laced with a generous supply of laughter—what I would call belly laughter, a deep-from-way-down-inside-because-we’ve-gone-through-so-much-together laughter that was highly contagious. And when I saw their Bibles come out, I knew I had to find out more.

I almost fell in on them I was eavesdropping so close, but one of them caught me and invited me in. That’s when I found out they were at one time all from the same town and were meeting back at this hotel as a sort of semi-annual reunion. I could see why they would make the effort because they indeed had something special going here.

When I asked them why they were still meeting, I received a litany of divorce, cancer, dead husbands, and lost children that would have kept a sitcom supplied with material for more seasons than Friends ever dreamed of. There was history behind those belly laughs. There was an obvious spiritual center to this group, but not a rubber stamp. There was a Roman Catholic, a southern Baptist, a Methodist, a Pentecostal, and two who named no church affiliation, yet I couldn’t help thinking that they were having church there, and it was a church I wouldn’t mind joining.

The “youngest” and spunkiest among them was quite clearly the eighty year-old who was actually the excuse for this particular get-together having just turned eighty that week. I commented about how she didn’t look a day over sixty-five. That’s when one of the other women quipped: “Oh she’s eighty, alright. Why do you think she’s been trying to thread that needle for the last 15 minutes!” Belly laughs followed with birthday girl, the loudest.

What held these women together wasn’t just a religious experience, it was their shared human experiences as well, their love and respect for each other and their ability to let each other’s character come out of the box where I would wager it stays most of the time when they are not together like this.

I actually found myself being jealous of what these women had, until I realized I could have it too. It requires commitment, stark honesty, love, acceptance, and refusal to judge one another. It requires needing and serving one another. This is something we all need.

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