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Laugh – It’s Good for You

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-2-38-11-pmJune wiped her wet eyes and took a deep breath. “Oh,” she said, “I feel so much healthier.” I, too, wiped my eyes, as did my college girlfriends while we celebrated a milestone birthday. We’d laughed so hard, we cried. So hard that we emptied a box of Kleenex to wipe our faces. June took another deep breath and said, “I love being with you all because we laugh. Long and loud.”

What was so funny? We reminisced about a time when we were together and got caught in a downpour of rain at a shopping mall. We made a plan to get to our van without any of us getting our hair wet. Holding the only small umbrella we had over her head, Blondie walked to her van and parked it closer, two parking spaces away. The other six of us huddled under a store awning. Carrying the umbrella, Blondie jumped a puddle of water and walked toward us. She and June walked back to the van. Blondie got in the van and June carried the umbrella and walked Kathy to the van. Then it was Kathy’s turn to walk one person to the van. A few trips later, and after we’d all jumped over the same puddle of water, all seven of us were in the van. No one’s hair was wet, but we poured water out of our shoes and our clothes were damp.

We laughed then, almost twenty years ago, about how silly we must have looked walking two by two under a small umbrella and we laughed when we were together recently. Hysterical, uncontrolled laughter.

According to medical authorities, there’s evidence that we were healthier after laughing. I read an article in Reader’s Digest that quotes from a book, Heal Your Heart, by Dr. Michael Miller, MD. He states that deep belly laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which activates nitric oxide. This chemical causes blood vessels to dilate and increases blood flow, reduces the buildup of cholesterol plaque, and lowers the risk of blood clots. After fifteen minutes laughing, volunteers in Dr. Miller’s study got the same vascular benefit as if they had spent 15-30 minutes at the gym or take a daily statin. No treadmill. No meds. Just laughter.

Even watching a funny movie improves health. In another study, the blood vessels of those who watched There’s Something About Mary dilated, and the blood vessels of participants who watched Saving Private Ryan narrowed. And it’s been proven that people with heart disease were less likely to use humor in an uncomfortable situation, such as when a waiter spilled water on them, than people with healthy hearts.

Now I know why my friend, Jo, is super healthy. She shared that one morning while walking for exercise, she fell, rolled, and got right up. Because she rolled with such good form, she laughed. “I’d rather be sore from laughing than from a fall! I laugh out loud every time I can,” Jo said. Most often at herself.

So maybe a couple of old sayings are true. Maybe laughter really is the best medicine and maybe laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects. No negative side effects – only positive ones.

Good reasons to laugh hysterically and keep a sense of humor. And good reasons to get together with friends who laugh with you.

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‘Tis the Season for Leaves Part 2

JumpingInLeaves

 

 

 

Tis’ the Season for Leaves

Part Two

            Tis’ the season for leaves.  Beautiful yellow and red and orange leaves that light up Tennessee mountains.   Leaves that fall to the ground.  Leaves that shout, “Play!”  Last week in this space, I whined about raking and blowing of leaves off our driveway and yard.  But I’m really not a Grinch.  And I really love living in the woods.

I’ve played in leaves all my life.  The house where I grew up had a yard with a couple of maples and a huge oak tree.  My best friend and I created ground level playhouses using leaves for walls.  We’d skipped Saturday morning cartoons to set up our yard house, and we carried our lunch to our outside kitchen.  Late afternoon, we raked our playhouse into a big pile, jumped in the middle, and hid.  And we threw leaves high in the air, letting them float over and around and on us.

When I was a college student (right here at TTU), I begged my parents to not rake all the leaves so I could do them when I was home for Thanksgiving.  Dad and I raked the huge brown leaves into a pile that I walked through and jumped in.  Is anyone ever too old to settle into a bed of fall leaves?  And I threw leaves in the air.  I’m sure Dad wanted to get the job done, but he indulged my play before we threw every leaf on the garden plot for mulch.  Mom served vegetable soup and cornbread for supper.  Those days made happy memories.  And when my children were young, they built leaf houses and forts.  They threw and stomped leaves, and they hid under mountains of leaves.

A few weeks ago when the leaves had just begun to fall, my Grands were playing in our backyard.  They kicked rubber balls down the hill and threw them back up to see whose ball went higher on the hill before it rolled down.  We gathered fall treasures.  Hickory nuts, crimson dogwood leaves, and acorns.  “I’ll be right back,” David, age 8, said.  He ran into the garage and came out carrying a leaf rake.  “Get me one!”  his six-year-old sister yelled.

David and Lou worked.  They started at the top of the hill and raked halfway down.  “What a great job you’re doing!”  I said and wondered that if I’d suggested that they rake leaves, would it have been fun?  The pile grew larger.  Big enough that I couldn’t let it stay on the grass, and my Grands had to go home soon.  They could help me carry the leaf pile off the yard, I thought.  “That’s enough.  I think you need to stop,” I said.

“You’re right, Gran, that’s enough!”  Lou threw down her rake and jumped right in the middle of the leaf pile.  “Can you see me?”  she asked.  Those leaves scattered when she jumped a foot off the ground.  And they scattered more when my Grands ran through the pile and rolled down the hill and had a leaf fight.

Fall leaves – Mother Nature’s toys.

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John Stories

Sunday morning.  I stood in my closet choosing clothes for church when the phone rang.  “Susan, do you have a minute to talk?” my college roommate asked.  I sat down as she spoke.  John, her husband of 40 years, was breathing his last breaths.  John, whose doctor had just a few days before declared his heart valve replacement a great success and told him to carry on with normal life.  John, who had planned an evening out with friends to celebrate.  His passing was quick.

I first loved John because Jo Ann loved him.  She and I had shared a 10’ x 12’ dormitory room for three years at Tennessee Tech University.  Sisters by choice.  In 1972, I stood beside Jo Ann when she and John promised to love each other until parted by death.  For four days, I stood behind Jo Ann while she made difficult decisions and received condolences.  And I heard stories.

A ten-year old neighbor boy hugged Jo Ann and said, “I liked when he threw the ball with me.  I’ll miss him.”  The next-door neighbor cried as he told me that just two days before he and John had stood in their driveways.  “He hugged my girls (ages 2 and 3) and said ‘How fast can you run?’  When they ran to him, he laughed and told then they could run faster.  The girls wrapped their arms around his legs and John pretended to fall.  He made everybody laugh.”

Jan and John had an on-going joke about birds flying overhead.  John didn’t want to sit at the outside restaurant table under a tree.  Surely there was a place inside for six people to eat dinner that May evening.  Jan teased him that his bald head would be a perfect target, but she’d make sure that birds didn’t deposit anything on it.  When John turned his back to her, Jan poured water into her hand and dumped it on his head.  John stood, hollered words that his mother would’ve washed out of his mouth, and swiped his head with a cloth napkin.  His friends laughed, and John laughed loudest.

Only his generous heart surpassed John’s sense of humor.  January 1976, a snowstorm hit the Nashville area at rush hour and immediately turned roads into parking lots.  My fifteen- month-old daughter, Alicia, and I were stranded on a neighborhood street, miles away from our home on the other side of Davidson County.  After two hours, my new best friends, whose cars were parked on the snow-covered, icy street, pushed my car into a driveway and watched as I knocked on a stranger’s door.  I asked to use her phone and stay inside her warm house.  The snow finally stopped and the main roads were cleared.  John left his workplace in downtown Nashville.  He drove out of his way to rescue Alicia and me from a stranger’s house and took us to his and Jo Ann’s home.  Midnight supper never taste so good.

‘John stories,’ Jo Ann calls them.  Stories that remind me to laugh and hug.  Stories that make me happy that John was my friend.  Stories that help heal hurting hearts.