Rearview Life Laughter

I was talking to my long-time friend, and Best Man, Dave “Hugo” Hughes last night. We’re now separated by five states, but still good friends. We took a European river cruise together two years ago. Our wives came, too!

In the midst of our conversation, he made a statement that stuck in my head like a slow-melting chocolate Whopper. He said, “You know, life is a lot funnier in the rearview mirror.” It was a comment stated by a father who lost his oldest son four years ago this week, and a guy who, along with his wife, battled COVID-19, and a friend who has dealt with the drama, death, and dilemmas over the years.

Other situations have happened over the years that caused momentary stress, but looking back at it now cause a reaction of belly-chuckling. Like the time Dave and I were returning to Ohio from a visit with our high school friend, Mike Fairchild, who had moved to Rochester, New York for his first job. We had taken my parents’ Chrysler, gotten a mustard stain on the front seat that my mom would remind me of for the next 30 years, but also encountered the problem of the vehicles cruise control sticking. I’m riding the break and we’re still going 85! We were coming up on a rest area and Dave told me to throw it into neutral and head into the rest area. I did…but didn’t! Instead of neutral I threw the car into reverse. Not a good thing when you’re going 85, but my friend’s quick thinking saved us. He reached over, moved the gear shift into neutral, and we coasted into the rest area, two twenty-year-olds sweating profusely.

And now we laugh at that memory. We laugh at my cluelessness, our sudden brush with death, and my mom’s focus on a mustard stain and disregard of the mechanical disaster we faced.

So much of life is funny…after the fact! Like the time in college when I was trying to flatter a young lady toward as our first date was coming to an end. I made a statement that was meant to communicate how nicely proportioned her body was (Never a good thing to do!) and she came away with the idea that I was saying she was fat in certain areas and lean in others.

There was not a second date!

I chuckle as I remember that evening conversation, but still mutter to myself “What an idiotic thing to say!”

Maybe my tendency to chuckle about the past has resulted in more of a lighter view of the present. Some people get stressed out by there still being milk after its expiration date, or a coffee spot on their pants. There are a handful of life situations to take seriously, like a diagnosis of cancer, the death or serious illness of a child, someone’s spiritual condition, and broken relationships. But a boatload of life should be viewed with the perspective of how we will see it a few years down the road in the rearview mirror.

I conducted a basketball camp last week for middle schoolers. One of the things we taught and worked on was left-handed layups. I found myself saying several times to a few kids reluctant to use their left hands, “What’s the worst that can happen? You miss it? Is that the worst?” My elderly rationale broke through the anxiety for many of them and they tried their left hand. I applauded their step into the scariness of the undiscovered. Maybe twenty years from now they will look back at the basketball coach who encouraged them to discover that their left hand wasn’t useless.

Teaching language arts to seventh graders this past year has amplified the volume of my humor. Most of them enjoyed my unpredictability, whether it was donning a blond wig, greasing my hair back as we read the book The Outsiders, or bringing in a multitude of stuffed animal “replacement students.” One class of over-achievers, in my opinion, had become too concerned about their grades. One day I had a talk with them about doing their best but also enjoying the journey. I said this to them: “Life is more than a letter grade on an academic record. It’s about people, friendships, family, and things that last forever. It’s about the joy of laughter and the memories that stay with us.”

And then I gave each of them a roll of Smarties. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember that sweet conversation on down the road when they look in the rearview mirror.

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