Laughter is Contagious is a short chapter from Edge of Grace, Fierce Awakenings to Love. It is one of the closing stories that demonstrates the power of inclusion, belonging, and laughter. Libby is an excellent teacher of silliness that reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously and that connection is what matters most.
Libby is vividly demonstrating happiness in her new classroom in Nevada City at the start of a new school year, 2005. Her teacher, Bobbie, is remarkably supportive and receptive. She enthusiastically incorporates methods of communication, equipment, and props that we use at home with Libby. We have a daily communication log that goes back and forth between home to school. In the beginning, Bobbie reports that Libby giggles hysterically through the main lesson. They need to wheel her out of the classroom so the other students can focus on the task at hand. Or she cracks up when it is time to eat lunch. This entices other students to do the same and mishandle their food. Her outright silliness throws off the routine of the day. That’s my Libby, a natural troublemaker. We’re pressed to modulate her behavior by teaching her when it is time to listen to the teacher, do her work, or eat, and when it is time to play, socialize, or engage others with her merriment. The plan is to roll her out of the class when she is disrupting the routine and to give her consistent positive feedback when she is on course. After several weeks, she figures it out, internalizes the routine, and understands what is expected of her.
I have three predictable questions that I ask Libby each day when she arrives home on the bus from school. In an even tone, I ask, “Libby, did you listen to your teacher?” She replies with a similar even tone, “eeeaaahhh.” “Libby, did you do all of your schoolwork?” Again, she replies, “eeeaaahhh.” Then I say, “Libby, did you talk to the boys?” I hit the jackpot. Each time without fail, her reply is loaded with exuberant squeals, kicks, and giggles. This tells me she had a good day, was socially engaged, and probably did not have to be wheeled out of the room. On a rare occasion, her response is solemn and quiet. When I looked into the matter, I found out there was a substitute teacher, or Lucy or Tommy was absent. On these days she feels an emotional thread in her classroom circle is missing.
*photo of Libby at the time of this story getting ready for a day at school with her friends.
Libby’s emotional intelligence continues to blossom—not with words, but in the way she engages with people and the environment. I discover through trial and error that she has a need (like all of us) to belong. When she knows that she is missing an outing, her kick is fierce, as if to say, “I’m coming! You can’t leave me here!” She knows. I don’t know how she knows, but she knows. When she has not been on an outing with Autumn, Abby, and me for a while, mostly because we live in a world designed for abled bodies, she is upset. It is not always easy to navigate an outing with a sensitive body in a wheelchair. When we bring her with us, her behavior is rambunctious. This is especially difficult in a movie theater. Libby rollicks and kicks her legs with gusto, showing us her excitement. She interprets the silent pauses as if it is her cue to take the stage. The “get a grip on your child” stares of impatient viewers sting us. Many people assume that Libby is distressed, hurt, and perhaps having a traumatic episode. I wheel her out and implement the classroom routine until she is ready to listen like a good moviegoer.
In the early days, I felt embarrassed or protective by suddenly becoming the focal point in a crowd of strangers. Instead, now I talk to Libby. “Libby, you’re excited to be here, to hear new sounds, to feel all of these people, aren’t you?” She squeals with positive delight. Sometimes I hear a few conscious parents whisper to their children, “Don’t stare,” while other curious children will charge over to us and ask, “What’s wrong with her?” I say something like, “This is Libby. She’s laughing and having fun. Do you want to say ‘hi’?” At this point, the child either shies away or touches her hand. For example, one day we are strolling around at a local park. A little girl comes over to us from the sandbox and gently holds Libby’s hand. She moves her eyes from Libby to me.
“What’s her name?”
“This is Libby. You can talk to her if you like.”
“Hi, Libby. I’m Angie. Do you want to play with me?”
Libby sits quietly, feeling the texture of Angie’s hand in hers, listening to this new voice, welcoming her into a magical moment that they share—together.
Something is nourished between them. Libby relaxes with her new friend as if to say, I belong.
Edge of Grace, Fiderce Awakenings to Love — the new release of the ebook is currently available here on my website, or you can buy the printed version on Amazon. Please join hundreds of readers and submit a short honest review to Amazon here, so others can be transformed by this powerful story and learn to embrace hardship with fierce love and resilience.
“I read this book for the second time recently and gained a tremendous amount of additional insight, perspective, and guidance. Truths that I can apply to my own life are now more clear. Taking the words of Prajna internally, as if she is alongside me, guiding me through the preponderances of my life. She elicits an openness that allows for spiritual growth and hopes for getting closer to a true and real awakening. If you’re looking for not just a good read, but for something to actually change your perspectives and understandings of your world, you should pick up this book. Read it. Let it encircle you. Then read it again and feel the changes from within.” — Auguste