Laughter is contagious, catch it if you can

By Michele Zirkle Marcum - Contributing Columnist

Editor’s Note: Listen to the podcast of this column.

There’s nothing better than a good gut laugh — you know the one — when manners are out the window and whatever food’s in your mouth is escaping out your nostrils.

Somedays I’d pay someone to just wrestle me to the ground like Dad used to and tickle me until I couldn’t breathe.

“Gitch your gilligopper,” he’d say, his fingers tap-dancing across my neck. I didn’t know what a gilligopper was. Still don’t. But I know somedays I wish a hunter would come a lookin’ for it and make me laugh that kind of laugh that you can’t stop until tears are streaming and you’re plumb worn out.

I’m happy. I smile at strangers and chuckle at jokes over dinner, but sometimes I crave that Buddha-belly laugh — that rush of endorphins that makes me feel like I just scaled Mount Everest — victorious.

I’ve found that laughter is contagious, like vomiting — you’re almost compelled to join the one doing it whether you want to or not. One day a while back, my mom and sister and I got tickled while chatting at a coffee shop. Our giggles escalated into full-scale air-gasping which enticed several glances from other patrons. One lady actually walked up to our table and said, “Now, you just don’t hear people laugh like that anymore.” We could only nod as we dabbed our eyes with napkins and attempted to compose ourselves.

But should we have felt the need to compose ourselves? Is the roaring sound of laughter really taboo in a world where showing your undies is a fashion statement and reality shows lend no privacy to usually private situations? To me, we should laugh every chance we can, not at other’s misfortunes, but at the silliness that strikes a chord with our whimsical side.

Being embarrassed by our laughter is like being embarrassed because we had to blow our nose — it’s as if we are proposing we aren’t human. Or, just maybe, it’s the fear of letting go — of being out of control for a few glorious moments in which all we can do is permit the rumble of laughter to echo through our trembling bodies.

I contend, we need not hold back our laughs. Laughter is an amazing gift that can turn the saddest moment into joy.

Even back in high school, a good laugh could turn a day in the doldrums because of a failed grade or a boyfriend breakup, into a bearable, if not pleasant, experience. In drama, I’d slather clown white on a fellow student’s face, and wait in anticipation for the audience’s reaction to the mime. The spontaneity of their laughter relayed whether they were really digging the show or not. During the shows when the audience was riveted, there was electric in the air, the actors fed off the outbursts and the whole theater vibrated with jovial waves long after the encore, but when the responses were more like the canned ones from a 1980s sitcom, the performance fell flat.

The best laughter isn’t force, isn’t maimed to a “That’s funny,” statement. It bursts from the throat like a breeched damn, spewing forth like a waterfall until every cell tingles with bliss. For me this happens much less often than I’d like, but when it does, it’s so spectacular that I wonder how I can make it happen again.

Thing is, it’s random events that usually trigger my deepest laughs — like my husband delicately missing the fly he’s trying to catch with his fingers, like Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid,” or me finding myself flat on my back from slipping on a patch of ice — that is assuming, of course, my leg’s not broken.

I wish I could stage a humorous event that would light up my insides. Until then, I’ll enjoy those few moments when tears run over my open mouth that’s gasping for air. One ocean-hearty laugh is worth a hundred shallow dips in the creek of stifled emotions.

May the gilligopper hunter be on the hunt for you, too.

By Michele Zirkle Marcum

Contributing Columnist

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio.

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio.