A guest post by Jo Warwick
As the large lorry wheels hit the brown leather suitcase, its contents (wedding attire and holiday clothes) spewed all over the interstate . . .
Driving from the airport to upstate New York, most of my family were crammed into the large rented estate car for the beginning of our American adventure.
This was 28 years ago and we were en route to my eldest brother’s wedding celebrations. As I sat facing rearwards in the “boot” of the car with my grandad, events unfolded in what looked like slow motion before our eyes.
One suitcase after another slipped off the top of the car, where they had been safely tied down (or so we thought), into the wide lanes of oncoming traffic. Our presents, dresses and tuxedos, including our most intimate items, were on display to all and sundry as one lorry after another ran over them.
Once we had managed to pull over, we just stood helplessly and in shock on the hard shoulder, waiting for some kind of divine intervention. Thankfully, it came in the form of a compassionate man who was willing to risk life and limb to help us retrieve our belongings before the police arrived to close the road.
My mum and I recently recited this story to one another as we reminisced about our grand American tour: this event set the theme for the rest of it!
We chuckled as we remembered the shock and embarrassment of the situation, but most of all we chuckled over the fact that that my middle brother attended the wedding in his tuxedo, which clearly told the story: it had a perfect tire track etched all the way down one side!
This story has given us so much laughter, and my parents have dined out on it since.
This was just the beginning, though . . .
An American adventure
My parents had spent months planning their dream trip: traveling down the East Coast of the United States in a camper van. This trip is remembered in our family history as the most memorable and fun family holiday we have ever had, not because it was a perfect trip, but because we manage to find the funny side through one drama after another. Sometimes we realize we have to embrace the Zen of losing control.
On the night of the suitcase incident we settled into our hotel rooms, exhausted and jet-lagged, only to be awoken two hours later by the sound of fire engines. We then spent two hours standing around in our nighties, only to be told it had been a false alarm.
Thankfully, the wedding went off without a hitch, but afterwards we headed out on the open road and the real adventure began. We were to live the high life on the open road and see the sights as we traveled in the camper van for the next three weeks.
We were going to live the dream and embrace the art of traveling well . . .
Except the dream began with the camper van breaking down ten miles after we had picked it up, and then, after we had fixed it and got going again, it broke down again and again, usually in the most inconvenient and embarrassing of places, where we would stop the most traffic!
Basically, it broke down everywhere … and our adventure included visiting some of the best garages in the United States!
The highlight, though, was when my father pulled up at a stop sign and wondered why his feet were suddenly covered in water – the shower had burst and water had flooded the inside of the van.
As my mum and I recounted the story to each other, tears once again glistened in our eyes as we chuckled at this well-worn memory; a drama that really was an adventure.
I have no memory of my parents being angry or disappointed because the reality of our trip had not measured up to their dream; instead, as always they seemed to find the joy or silver lining in a situation, or be able to laugh off the ridiculousness of a predicament.
One evening my dad even got us to walk through the local drive-through McDonald’s. Because we didn’t have a car, we just pretended we were in one, and pulled up together, making engine sounds as we ordered our food.
The power of laughter
This attitude has helped my family weather some of life’s greatest dramas, such as redundancies, cancer, deaths, life-threatening accidents and many more.
Although as a family we may have been cursed with the British stiff upper lip and inability to talk about our feelings, somehow we all found the courage to continue to fight, love and survive because we found a way to rise above the drama; we laughed.
Our family humor can be black, dry, quick and silly, but, above all, we all love telling a good story. Laughter can help you find meaning through life's difficulties. When I was involved in a serious accident, my mum had to push me around in a wheelchair for four months. On our first outing into the city, she promptly tipped me face-first onto the pavement, completely misjudging the curb.
It’s at moments like these when we choose how to behave, react and cope with life.
I could have been horrified, embarrassed, angry or felt unloved. Instead, I remember laughing so much that I wet myself as she helped pick me up.
Everyone makes mistakes …
My mum got cancer the first time when I was fifteen, and she could have chosen to be a victim, but instead she used her best stoic stubbornness and wicked sense of humor to her advantage in the face of change, death and loss to see the positives and survive.
She believed she would still be with us, alive and kicking, and laughter can be a great way of sticking two fingers up at the chaos and sometimes incomprehensible meanness and madness of life.
The memories of all these times can still bring great joy to us even through all our ups and downs and the mistakes we have all made; we always come back together as a family, with love and forgiveness, because of our capacity to find humor even in the darkest moments. We can shift from being a victim to a creator in our lives.
For a while I got stuck in all the drama as I tried to understand and let go of those feelings which were brushed under the carpet by stiff upper lip stoicism, and for a while I forgot this great gift from my family and my capacity to laugh at life.
Yes, I believe in being real and sharing your feelings, and I know from experience they can make you ill if you don’t – I am a therapist, after all – but I also believe that we must do our best to rise above life’s dramas and accept that life is sometimes unfathomable, and it’s sometimes just as good to laugh at it, as it is cry.
Laughter truly is a great healer.
We are not in charge of life and nothing is ever perfect, but it is in that very imperfection that we can find the greatest joys and best memories to bond us together. We can choose to see the world from a victim’s point of view that we are hard done by with every imperfection and mistake, or we can laugh our way through the muddle and the pure silliness.
As with all good adventures, there have to be some ups and downs – not only to excite and challenge us, but to make the whole of life worthy of appreciation. It can simply come down to how you chose to view those up and down when they happen, as to how you cope with them.
How have you used laughter to cope with life problems and difficulties? Please share your experiences below in the comments.
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Jo Warwick is a writer, healer, therapist and believer in the magic of life. Do you want to rediscover freedom, joy, fun and true love? Discover how you can fall in love with life again at Rediscover the Magic and get the free download of Barrie’s interview with RDM, as part of the guest expert interview collection.