Imagine that you’re in a restaurant. You’re there with a decent sized group of friends or family. You’re all having a great time. You’re talking and sharing stories and laughing at a reasonable volume. In a crowded restaurant, no one is drawing attention to you or your table. It’s a pleasant afternoon or evening out.
Now imagine that I’m there. I’m a part of your group. Maybe I’m a friend. Maybe we’re family. The point is, I’m part of this pleasant afternoon or evening out. Suddenly, you hear me laughing. How could you not? Everyone in the restaurant can hear my laughter. There was no reason for it. Nothing could have possibly been that funny. Strangers are staring. People are craning their necks to get a good look. A lot of them are probably asking themselves, “What’s wrong with that guy?” And then, just as suddenly as I started, I stop.No one told a joke. No one caused me to laugh uncontrollably. But that’s because I was in control the entire time. The loud laughter was fake. Why would I laugh in such a manner? Maybe someone at the table dared me to do it. Maybe they just asked nicely. Maybe I was bored and wanted to be the center of attention for a moment. My question is, how would you respond?
“Do the laugh!” That’s what they used to yell at me during college. We’d be in the dining hall on campus or a restaurant off campus or pretty much any public space. And I would do it. And in doing so, I discovered that I do not embarrass easily. I also discovered that the people I’m with find my humiliating shenanigans either entertaining or embarrassing. Those who are entertained begin laughing with me (but theirs is genuine). Those who are embarrassed generally turn red in the face and desperately search for a place to hide.Recently, I introduced The Laugh (I feel like it should be capitalized, as it is an entity unto itself) to my friends at church. For two years I’ve attended this church and there are a lot of things that these people don’t know about me. I’ve maintained a low key, mild mannered presence for the most part. One Sunday, while eating lunch at the Olive Garden with a large group, the subject of The Laugh came up.
I honestly don’t know how I brought it up. Somehow I got around to mentioning how I had the uncanny ability to control an obnoxious laugh to the point where I could turn it on and off like a faucet. A friend sitting across from me mentioned that she’d like to see that. In fact, she dared me. I gave her a chance to back out. I warned her that we would draw many stares and that there was a distinct possibility that we could be asked to leave. She seemed okay with the potential consequences. So I let it loose.
For approximately 30 seconds, I laughed like I’d just heard the funniest joke in the history of history. I drew the stares of many of the restaurant patrons. And then I stopped. Just as I had experienced in the past, the people who were with me were either entertained or embarrassed.
I’ve since discovered that one of those friends, who seemingly falls into the embarrassed category, now considers me to be something of an annoyance. I don’t think she dislikes me at this point. She just doesn’t want to be seen in public with me. Maybe it’s because I “laugh uncontrollably for no apparent reason.” Maybe it’s because I “have a tendency to break into song as if it’s the middle of the French Revolution.” Maybe it’s because I “never seem to pose appropriately for group photos anymore.”The way I see it, I can do one of two things moving forward. I could continue down this path of being the guy who’s come out of his shell a little more at the risk of alienating roughly half the people he’s grown close to in his current season of life. Or, I could go back to having the low key, mild mannered presence whenever I’m with people.
That second option, however, could lead to my becoming a hermit, simply to avoid the temptation of drawing attention to myself in public. But someday, someone will tell a joke and no one will laugh. “You know who had a great laugh?” they’ll say, “Aaron… that’s who.” But they won’t hear my laugh. Because I’ll be sitting at home in my room watching Jeopardy! and writing on my blog about how I had it good once, but I let it go to my head and became an embarrassment to the people I care about.