“Laughing…I mean…crying”–redux

I’m reposting this one with some new thoughts at the end. When you run out of material, it’s best to recycle…

…I have a recording of myself talking into a tape deck for about 30 minutes as a 6 year old. It’s ridiculous. It gives amazing insight to what was going through my head as I tried to “make a tape” during nap time one summer afternoon. Mostly it revels how mean I was to my sister who was trying get in on the fun of telling Bible stories…anyway, on the tape while telling a story about how I fell off of my bike on the gravel driveway, I accidentally mix up the words “laughing” and “crying.”

What’s funny about that today, over 20 years later, is that I still get confused between the two. There are moments when I will be laughing really hard and then all of a sudden find myself crying. My best friends think it’s a funny quirk of mine (especially since the triggers include imagining one friend wearing a beetle costume down the isle and gifting multiple cheese balls to my family for Christmas), but recently I’ve been thinking more about why those two seemingly opposite emotional reactions occur at the same time.

Some people laugh when they’re extremely upset or nervous, and we all know people cry when they are happy, but to do both? It’s more than a little confusing. My idiosyncratic behavior was confirmed when Caroline Herring (see lower posts) sang a song about her son in which she says “I never knew what it was like to laugh and cry at the same time.”

The similarities are greater than they seem. Sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is laughing or crying. Why? They have similar sounds; if you just heard the sound without seeing the person’s face, you might not be able to distinguish one from the other. Laughing and crying use similar bodily movements; the stomach is engaged, and it is often physically uncontrollable–an immediate reaction you can’t always prevent. Both involve deep emotion whether “happy” or “sad.” Someone wise once told me that joy and pain are so linked in our spirits that they are hard to distinguish.

But it’s the opposite nature is what gets me; there is something about the paradox that gives me the sense that there might be a redemptive theme here. Going to our hardest places often brings a peace we couldn’t find anywhere else. The most incapable person brings about the greatest change. Being exposed makes us all the more aware of how much we are covered. The greatest tragedy brought our only hope.

(I used the website www.associatedcontent.com for some of the ideas about the physiological nature of laughing and crying in this post.)

In thinking more deeply about the connection between tears of joy and tears of pain, this morning I came across this from Henry Nouwen…

In this crazy world, there’s an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy.

But in the eyes of God, they’re never separated.

Where there is pain, there is healing, Where there is mourning, there is dancing.

Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.


6 responses to ““Laughing…I mean…crying”–redux

  1. I laughed and cried at the same time the other day. I was really upset, so I went running to relieve some of the stress. I started crying and then laugh-crying. I think I was embarrassed about the source of my stress and tried to laugh it off, but I was still crying. It felt weird.

    I guess that’s backwards and quite different from laughing and then crying. But I’m no expert.

  2. 1. We have tape after tape of my sister and me recording “radio shows” when we were kids!! Hilarious. So glad there are others out there…

    2. I cry-laughed this very week. Cried during a conversation, realized how ridiculous it was, and laughed out loud. Then I kept crying. You’re right – its a weird feeling.

  3. all I know is…
    the best belly laughs are the deepest ones that eventually turn to tears streaming down my face.
    That’s when I know when I’ve really “let go.”
    When I am able to laugh so hard I cry.

  4. Um, yeah, I have accidents when I laugh to hard. And if I’m eating, I spit everything up. Last time that happened, I was at a good friend’s funeral. I went to lunch with some high school friends after the service, and they made me laugh. It felt so good to get the energy out after such loss.

    And I seem to laugh when people get hurt. It’s my nervous reaction. I think I’ll pretty much do anything before I cry. I don’t like to cry. It’s kinda messed-up.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, Moxie.

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