The Hidden Laughter

by Scott Burton

Do you remember as a child, being slightly scared and running to your parents for safety? Do you remember playing tag and narrowly escaping someone's outstretched grasp? Or how about the memory of sharing a story and savoring the telling as if it were a lip-smacking delicacy?

If you've ever experienced those moments then you know what it is to laugh. Though it is not laughter as we often think of it, the rollicking vocal release. It is, instead, the inner laughter we all have that is often overlooked in our lives -- the knowing, the excitement, the constant realization of something true and special about life. That is the hidden laughter we forget in our lives almost every day.

It is indeed a subtle laughter. The best way to explain it is: Have you ever looked back on your life and only been able to shake your head with a resigned smile? That is the laughter. The laughter that acknowledges life is something greater than us, something magical but, by sheer grace, we are allowed to partake in anyhow. It is the laughter of family, of maturity, of birth, of knowing we aren't as in control as we think. It is the faint ring of God's laughter that echoes quietly throughout the universe like a gentle symphony. And once recognized, we see that there is and always will be a profound sense of laughter to everyday life.

We often think of laughter as something elusive, something we have to work at each day to achieve. We rent videos, read magazines and make special efforts to locate humor. But, in embracing the little, unrecognized laughter, the search is over. Laughter remains with us always. It is, though, a little less obvious, coming in the form of a genuine smile, a beautiful song, even a satisfying meal. It's a laughter that highlights the paper-thin difference between having humor and being human.

To me, that hidden laughter is just as important as the boisterous outbursts we hold so dear. While the out-loud expression of laughter stimulates endorphins to help heal our bodies, the inner laughter helps to heal our souls. It is the quiet, profound laughter telling us that, amidst all our troubles, life is still worth living.

During my own battle with cancer, I saw the hidden laughter in many things -- the identical bright red caps my brother bought for himself, my dad and me, in family dinners as the food was passed around the table, in the eyes of my children, in walks outside the hospital, in trees swaying in the wind. I remember once, my sisters and wife visiting me in chemo after the drugs had left me bald and thin. The moment they walked through the door I felt a joyful inner laughter simply knowing that I loved them as much as I did. And, because they loved me, they also shared some outward laughter, "You look a little different, Scott," one of them said playfully, "did you get a haircut?"

Hidden laughter is a sense of humor, joy and spirit that we can't bring about ourselves. It is there already and all we have to do is be willing to see it. And once that laughter is inside our hearts, we will also find ourselves laughing on the outside more than we ever thought we would.

Maybe games of tag are less plentiful these days, or running to your parents doesn't bring the same kind of comfort it once did. But we do still have stories to tell. We have moments to relish and memories to share. We have the knowledge of an unimaginable, lovable life to remind us to keep that hidden laughter not so well hidden.