If you were a fly on the wall, or even a neighbor with their window open, the most noticeable sound you would hear if my brothers and I were together anywhere would be laughter. It would be loud at times, even raucous, and distinctive, coined “the Gulian laugh” by those close to our family. And it’s hereditary. My son Miles has it.
But what is not inherited is the preciousness of our time together and a humor that has not come cheaply. We grew up in a family rocked by loss and sorrow. In 1964, our other brother, Timmy, died suddenly, sending all of us, parents especially, into a tailspin. A ship that seemed unsinkable to small trusting hearts crashed and splintered, leaving survivors afloat in the dark. We drifted that way for years, castaways in an unpredictable sea, feebly attempting to brace ourselves against every storm.
Mama always said, “Remember, you always have your family,” and at the time it seemed like a depressing thought. We were all a mess. But as the years have rolled by, and the ebb and flow of life’s circumstances have visited our lives, we have moved closer to each other, perhaps remembering those words. When my son Spencer was murdered, Bob sat next to me on the couch the same day, listening as his poor crazed sister recounted the vivid details of discovery. Graham drove up for the murder trial and sat next to me. They called often and would ask, “How are you?” and I knew they really wanted to know the truth. When our mom had two major strokes that left her demented and unable to be our mom anymore, we cared for her together. And as usual we laughed a lot. So did she.
Our ability to find humor in the midst of a life that’s hard is an underestimated virtue, a cousin to courage. Over the last few years I’ve watched both of them lose jobs, deal with teenagers and let’s face it, age a little. We are all in our fifties. Yet sometimes I drive to New York just because I need to see my brothers, my child-like demented mother and I need to laugh, usually to the point of crying, I laugh so hard. The same God who hovered over the ocean of sorrow as we drifted through the dark night caused the current to wash us ashore into His healing grace.
Mama also used to say Timmy was with God. For a long time it seemed like God never stepped down from heaven into our massive sea of suffering. But He did over 2000 years ago and He still does today, bringing beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning. And I think He loves the Gulian laugh…even if the neighbors don’t.