It is a crisp October night in 1984. I’m sitting at the kitchen table watching my mother struggle to cut shapes into a pumpkin, her brow furrowed in concentration. The mouth of this Jack-O’Lantern is lined with zig-zagging teeth and as Mommy slides the knife upward, it cuts through the pumpkin flesh and up into the nose-triangle. “Dammit”, she murmurs under her breath. She pulls the knife out and resumes cutting from another point. Moments later, on another upward cut, the knife slips and a chunk of pumpkin clatters to the table. Mommy lets out an exasperated sigh and declares, “Well, now the pumpkin has a cleft lip, just like you!”
Having a sense of humor is key to getting through life with or without a physical difference. Lucky for me, I was born into a family which already had a bunch of hilarious people in it. I learned early on that even in the worst moments of life, there is usually some small ridiculousness to be made light of. Finding humor in the dark times is like a life raft in a stormy sea.
Fast forward about 12 years after the cleft-pumpkin incident. I’m nested among pillows and blankets in a recliner in our family room, recovering from major jaw surgery. My mouth has been wired shut for weeks and all I can eat are foods that have been liquefied and squeezed into my mouth through a giant syringe. My face is horrendously swollen and bruised. I’m skinnier and weaker than usual, and feeling pretty low. From my spot in the family room, I can see my mom in the kitchen, preparing my next meal. Lethargically I watch as she packs some puréed slop into the syringe and then attempts to insert the plunger into the base. The rubber seal on the plunger gives her some trouble, so she turns the whole thing upside down so that the syringe is pointing upward. I can see where this is going and my eyes widen as, in her frustration, she presses hard on the syringe, causing the plunger to slide up quickly and eject the contents of the syringe up onto the kitchen ceiling. There is a moment of silence, as we take in the situation. Then I begin to laugh. Possibly the first time I laugh since the surgery. My jaws ache as I strain against the wires that are holding everything in place. Tears squeeze out of my eyes and roll down my swollen cheeks. It isn’t easy to laugh with your jaws wired shut, but the lightness of mind that comes with a good chuckle is a relief, and I can suddenly see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh. -Maya Angelou