I got home late last night after spending my Sunday evening with Justin’s family (Sunday nights are my Friday nights!) and as I was scrolling through Facebook, I came across a story of a country singer’s wife who had just decided to come home from the hospital and stop her cancer treatments. Tears welled up in my eyes as I immediately flashed back to so many horrible memories from when I was 13 and my mom had just made the decision to do the same. I can still see the dimly lit hospital room in my head where as the ceilings grew taller I grew smaller until I shrunk down so far into myself that I felt like I could melt into the floor and escape from the darkness I was drowning in.
My mom always had a lighthearted, fun-loving kind of spirit. Even right up until the end of her life, she was making jokes and trying her best to keep her three girls smiling. That last night we were in the hospital, her “cancer doctor” who had been assigned to her case from the beginning walked in, closed the door behind her, and told my mom that her cancer had spread further than we had hoped. My mom, still positive and unbelievably cheery, responded, “Okay! What’s next? What’s our next step?” And as her doctor responded with just a small, almost imperceptible shake of her head, that was when my mom finally broke down. That was when the hospital room got so big and I felt so small. It was over.
As I was thinking about all of this last night, wondering how I can go months without crying about my mom and then have it hit me all at once again just as fiercely as it did the first night she was gone, I had a hard time bringing to mind our happy moments. I didn’t get much time with my mom. She died just a few months before my 14th birthday. My younger sisters got even less time with her, which makes me so incredibly sad. But I know we had wonderful memories. I just have a hard time remembering them sometimes, that’s all.
I went to bed somber but laughing thanks to Justin sending me some links to videos he knew would make me smile. When I woke up this morning, I started to read my daily Skimm’d news report and came across a story about a presidential candidate being asked to leave the quiet car on the Amtrak train he was on. And just like that, I started laughing at a memory I hadn’t thought of in years but suddenly remembered as one of my favorite times I ever had with my mom.
It was July 2006. We were living in an apartment complex that was backed by a VRE train station and though we had never taken the train to DC before, we decided to hop on and spend our summer day at the zoo. As my mom, my sisters, and I boarded the train, we took our seats and continued our small talk. As the train lurched forward to begin the journey to DC, we continued to talk. After a few minutes of conversation, one of us suddenly realized how quiet it was in the car we were in. My mom hushed us girls as we giggled about whatever conversation we were having, and when we responded with a puzzled look, she said, “Girls, I think this is the quiet car.”
We all looked at each other with quizzical expressions after glancing around the train car for a sign. Usually quiet cars are marked with a white sign with bold red letters that read, “QUIET PLEASE!” We couldn’t find any signs, but yet no one was speaking. Not a single person out of the 75+ people in that car was making a sound. So we did what anyone would do… we started laughing. And not just timid chuckles. Uncontrollable, obnoxious, embarrassingly snorting-sound laughing.
We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We couldn’t decide what was funnier: that we had somehow accidentally ended up on the quiet car or that it had taken us 5 minutes of talking normally to realize we were the only ones making a sound. OR that we were on a normal car, but that nobody was making a sound!! After a laughing fit of several minutes where we’re sure at least 3 people in our general proximity were cursing our souls, we finally got it together and decided we’d spend the rest of the ride in silence out of respect for our fellow Washingtonians. Leave it to DC to convert a normal train car into a quiet one. Even still, we giggled every time we looked at each other and every time the train stopped we were SURE someone was going to ask us to depart the train. We were going to be THOSE people who got kicked out of the quiet car.
I can still see my mom snickering in her seat, hands covering her mouth, as she tried but failed to convince us (and herself) to stop laughing. It was then that my 12-year-old self saw the beauty in laughing when everyone else is taking life too seriously to notice the humor right in front of them. I’ve always been a serious soul, and so has my youngest sister. But my mom loved to joke. She loved to pull pranks, come up with gag gifts, and make people laugh in the grocery store checkout line. Her lightheartedness somehow found its way into my being and is still a part of me today, even though I tend to be serious more often than I’m not :) I know if she was still here, she’d be best friends with Justin’s mom and they’d have the time of their lives messing with Justin and me. But because she’s not, I just try to remember not to take life too seriously. She had CANCER for pete’s sake… and she was still making the effort to laugh. To see the humor or the irony in almost every situation she encountered. I have my health, and I should be doing the same.
There is a time to be serious and a time to laugh. (Read Ecclesiastes if you ever want to hear someone ponder life’s deepest philosophical questions.) But I know God must have a sense of humor if we do, and I’d like to look back at the end of my life and have more memories where I laughed until my cheeks ached than serious moments of reflection and decision-making. It’s so much more joyful to think about those memories with my mom than the darkest ones. And I’m so thankful we had so many moments of smiling in spite of so much sadness.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the severity of all life’s demands today… don’t forget to stop, take a deep breath, look around you, squeeze the hand of who’s walking beside you, and take a moment to find the humor in diguise. You just might find yourself laughing in the quiet car.
P.S. Thank you Meredith for the “unattractive crying laughing” photo after I picked up this candle for an unknown reason and blew it out with my laugh. Haha.