Thanksgiving is a time for wonderful food, lots of football on television, board games and quality time with family. It is an opportunity to give thanks for community, relationships and life. In the midst of our celebration of thanks, I treasure two related expressions of deep emotion: crying and laughing.
Appreciating and giving thanks for laughter makes sense to most folks. Often times laughter bubbles up within, from our joyful and humorous experiences with others. One of my favorite holiday highlights is laughing with my mom. When she really gets laughing her laugh becomes inaudible and she has a hard time summoning a breath. This silent laugh makes everyone else laugh harder, which leads to tears streaming down her face, and the cycle of laughter builds on itself. I am so thankful for this laughter.
Sometimes we laugh at the unbelievable or in the face of the unbearable. One of my favorite biblical stories is the story of God announcing to Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son. They longed to have a child and were unable. Both were well beyond childbearing age and God announced the seemingly impossible would happen. What is Sarah’s reaction to this announcement from God? Laughter! She laughs at the idea of having a baby at her age. The gift of a child and the joy of being a parent makes her laugh. She laughs because her shame and grief from her inability to have a child is gone. The impossible has happened and she proclaims “God has brought me laughter, and everyone will laugh with me.” (Genesis 21) She and Abraham name their child Isaac, and the name Isaac means…… “he laughs.” We give thanks for Sarah’s laughter in the unbelievable.
Appreciating and giving thanks for crying isn’t as obvious, but is just as important as giving thanks for laughter. At Thanksgiving I give thanks for the relationships in my life. Included are the people who have died and with whom I can no longer be physically present. I cry for parishioners, friends, grandparents, an uncle and others. I cry for those who have lost spouses and children. It seems that my tears and hurt are as close to the emotional surface as my laughter.
The connection between these two deep emotions is relationship. We primarily laugh with other people. I may chuckle to myself once in awhile, but most of my laughing happens in the context of relationship. I don’t cry as often with other people, but almost all of my crying happens because of relationships. I cry because grandma is no longer around the table. I cry because I miss her red Jello and calming words.
So this Thanksgiving as tears of laughter stream down our face and tears of grief are wiped away, we give thanks for the relationships which cause us to both laugh and cry.