In times of great personal or worldwide tragedy, I find it impossible to be flippant about life and motherhood in particular. On Friday, Dec. 14, our entire nation was sucker punched in Newtown, Conn. and the nation mourned. I was sitting in my favorite book store, working on a book proposal, when I first heard whispers of the tragedy. I clicked around on the Internet to find live coverage and sat at the table with tears streaming down my cheeks as the horror unfolded.
Like so many other parents across the country, my first instinct was to go get my kids from school - rational or irrational - all I could think about was making physical contact with my kids. But as I sat, silently weeping, I knew if I went to pick my kids up from school early they would ask why and more than anything in this world, I don’t want them to know this happened. I stayed in front of the computer, my work forgotten, thinking of the parents who were rushing to Sandy Hook Elementary School with no one to pick up and my heart was crushed with grief.
I carried my 36-pound 3-year-old to the car when I picked her up from school just to touch her, and didn’t scold her when she kicked the back of my seat while we waited in the carpool line to pick up her big sisters. That evening was the first night my husband was home from a business trip, and the girls were thrilled to have everyone home.
I was in sensory overload as I watched my children play. My 7-year-old darted in and out of the kitchen, pausing to drag a step stool beside me at the stove. Emma wrapped her skinny little arms around me and gave me the longest hug of my life. I had to time to sniff her dirty, little girl, puppy-dog smell, fall apart in tears, choking back sobs and pull myself together before she let go, hopping off the stool with a kiss and a smile. I thought of her friends, her classroom, her teachers. My friends’ children. I thought about Sandy Hook and the community that is planning 28 funerals - it’s highly likely that everyone in that town lost someone they knew and loved.
On Saturday evening, I took my two oldest daughters to a wedding and I teared up again thinking of all that was lost for the children of Sandy Hook - no falling in love, no wedding plans, no happily ever after. When I got home from the wedding, Sadie, my 3-year-old was asleep in my bed. She was turned sideways with her feet resting on her Daddy’s back, her arms hanging off the edge of the bed. I attempted to move her to her bed but she awoke and cried, “I don’t want to sweep in my bed! It’s so scewwy in dere!” I shushed her and hushed her as mothers do and tried to reassure her, “It’s okay,” I whispered. “There is nothing to be afraid of…”
I closed my eyes and shook my head at the irony. I slid to the middle of the bed and tucked her up against me, scooting closer to my husband so that I was cocooned between the two of them and I prayed for Sandy Hook. I prayed for laughter and light in the midst of darkness. James Thurber said, “Every time is the right time for humor,” and while I have no intention of cracking jokes after such a travesty, this is what I prayed for for these families: healing, hope, light and laughter.
It comes when we least expect it but when we need it the most - I call it snot bubble laughter. It’s the kind of absurd laughter that Sally Fields experiences in Steel Magnolias after losing her daughter. She screams at the graveside, “I’m so angry! I just want to hit something!” And Olympia Dukakis does the truly noble thing, she grabs Shirley MacLaine and yells, giving each word at least eight syllables, “Here! Go ahead! Take a whack at Ouisa!” One minute your heart is about to break from anguish, and in the next, something so absurd happens that you have to laugh, creating the perfect and unfortunate environment for snot bubbles.
But that first laugh after a tragedy? It starts something. It starts to heal the soul.
So to the town of Newtown, Conn., to the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary students, I hope that when you least expect it, laughter will force its way into your life, cracking through the darkness, warming your soul and healing your broken hearts. I pray that some how, some way, you will all find the strength to carry on.
(Robin O’Bryant is an author, humorist and speaker. Her latest book is “Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.” Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and visit her blog at RobinsChicks.com.)