One day you will laugh. I promise. Probably not today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But soon.
Right now you are a premature newborn, lying in the NICU, inside a plastic bubble, just trying to breathe. Your name is Harley. Your tiny heart is struggling to beat, and your little nervous system is doing its level best to keep you alive.
You have mini-electrodes, sensors, itty-bitty tubes connected to your frail preemie body, and a knit cap to keep your head warm. Your life is devoid of humor right now.
But someday, Harley, you will be a normal, healthy baby. And you’ll eventually do what all normal babies do. You’ll eat, sleep, cry, pee, and seriously attempt to swallow your entire foot. And you will laugh.
You will also create digestive messes that will cause your parents to gag. Like the legendary mess my sister made when she was 9 months old and her cloth diaper spilled its contents into her crib. Whereupon my sister engaged in some good old-fashioned finger-painting on the bedroom wall.
After exhaustively cleaning the walls with Clorox, my father announced that he would not be eating meals again until his 90th birthday.
You will do things like that, Harley. You will grow. You will become handsome. You will stun us all with your talent. You will finger-paint.
But at some point in life, the sting of adulthood will find you. It finds us all. Someone will break your heart, you will become disillusioned, or you will lose something precious. Your health will fail. You will experience sadness, loss, or God forbid, spite.
You will learn that life is not as gleeful as depicted in the movies. Not every story has an idyllic sunset. There are no such things as unflawed heroes. Nothing works out the way you think it should.
The hard truth is, people can be mean, and life’s circumstances can be exponentially meaner. If you’re not careful all this will make you extremely constipated.
But humor will save you. Because humor is God’s gift to humans.
I once read a story about a young Jewish man in the Buchenwald concentration camp during the throes of the Holocaust. The young prisoner took it upon himself to constantly crack jokes, pull pranks, and make his fellow prisoners laugh.
The comedian always had a large audience because the prisoners craved laughter. Sometimes this laughter would spread like a virus throughout the entire camp until prisoners were flogged into silence.
But even the beatings could not stop the laughter. Men laughed deep into the night. They laughed throughout the days of grisly labor. They laughed over their paltry bowls of gruel.
Buchenwald was a vision of hell itself, and yet the gaunt men in the striped pajamas could frequently be seen laughing until they wept.
The comedian later remarked that laughter was how they kept their dignity throughout the most undignified circumstances. It was how they kept themselves alive.
In my own experience, I have noticed that people with the best senses of humor are usually the ones who have seen life’s worst stuff.
Take Randy. My friend Randy is hysterical. Whenever Randy tells a story to a room, everyone slaps their knees so hard that they develop stone bruises. People laugh so hard they ruin their trousers.
The ladies in the kitchen always pop their heads out the door whenever Randy is mid-story, and they shout, “Tell us what Randy said!”
I always assumed Randy must have had the greatest childhood. I imagined that he must have learned his skill from a funny father, or maybe a humorous mother. But no. Randy grew up as an orphan.
Randy bounced around from foster home to foster home. He endured sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and the unique brand of beuracratic ignorance that is the American foster system. And somehow, he learned to laugh in its face.
“I like to laugh until I cry,” Randy once told me. “Or vice versa.”
The thing is, Harley, nobody laughs at wonderfully happy things. You will find that the funniest moments in life are often the result of pain, suffering, and misery. “America’s Funniest Videos” is only one example.
But laughter can neutralize the acid in your worst circumstances, and it connects you to something bigger than yourself. Something higher. Something healing.
Someday soon, when your tiny body is healthy enough to produce laughter, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Maybe it will happen when someone tickles you. Or perhaps a parent will place their mouth on your bare, newborn tummy and blow a loud raspberry.
At which point a joyous sensation will originate in your heart, rise upward through your chest, and exit your mouth. This peal of laughter will be the most glorious noise your mom and dad have ever heard.
Which is why I pray you never stop making that sound. And I sincerely pray the same for us all.
Dusty - January 19, 2022 7:02 am
Congratulations Uncle Sean and Aunt Jamie … on the safe, although premature birth of Harley, your newborn nephew. A true gift from God to you and Jamie, and of course especially to his mom and dad (your sister and brother-in-law). Harley’s life can also be a gift of blessings to this world of Sin … a hurting world that needs more forgiveness, kindness, love and laughter. Thank you for this announcement the night just as I’m getting ready to go to sleep. Heartfelt prayers are being lifted up tonight by yours truly and others around this world that read your wonderful posts. Today’s January 19th 2021 poignant post is very convicting and compelling for each of us to consider how we she would try to spend the rest of our days on this planet created for mankind to live on. May everyone seek the Lord and find that perfect peace through my personal relationship with Jesus Christ and learn how to spread Joy and laughter to this world … just like this innocent child Harley will do one day. Thank you Lord for creating this precious baby, Harley. -Dusty 🙏🙏
Donna Rotenberry - January 19, 2022 9:06 am
Thank you for your daily message. I am fighting depression every day, but keep my faith in God and look for ways to lighten other people’s experiences. You have a wonderful storytelling ability that God has given you. May God bless you everyday.
Ed (Bear) - January 19, 2022 9:35 am
Thank you Sean. Right back to you!
Steve Hatch - January 19, 2022 6:14 pm
On a recent trip to Branson, we went to see Yakov Smirnoff. Right before he came out, he played a video talking about laughter. He pointed out that it’s something that people de before they crawl, walk, speak, etc. He had a video of a baby belly laughing at someone tearing paper in half. When the paper was torn he would erupt in laughter until he almost had to stop to catch his breath, then the person would tear the again. Needless to say after about three or four tears of the paper, the audience was caught up in the baby’s laughter, and laughing right along with him. Harley, I pray your time is coming, and sooner than later, and once you start, I hope you never run out of reasons to laugh.
David Grant - January 19, 2022 9:43 am
May the Lord continue to bless you Sean.
Audra S Isenhour - January 19, 2022 11:20 am
My children and I experienced laughter, real belly gripping laughter on the toughest day of our lives. We had spent weeks taking turns at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem with my husband, their father waiting to see if the chemotherapy would be successful in killing the leukemia cells in his body. The chemo failed and as his body began to fail as well, our three adult children and one adult grandson took up residence in his hospital room. He was in too much pain to transport home. For over a week we sat and held his hand and hugged each other as this man slipped away. The day came when he left us and we went as a team to finish the final arrangements. My husband was well known as a frugal man and an impatient shopper so when his choice of casket was displayed the belly laughs began! My husband was full on military retired from USAF and he had picked this tacky blue casket with large mouth bass leaping from each corner! Trying to picture that at a military funeral was mouth-dropping, but then we saw multiple drawers and we turned to each other and totally lost it! Our daughter remarked, “Mom, he really planned to take it with him”. He may have left us a laugh on purpose, but we found humor when we needed it most.
Denise Cheke - January 19, 2022 12:29 pm
Thank you Sean! Blessings on precious Harley! May your day be filled with love and laughter!
biglar48 - January 19, 2022 12:57 pm
You are a blessing from God, Sean. I thank Him for you daily. I start each day by reading your post. Keep on keeping on my Brother !
Jeanne - January 19, 2022 1:10 pm
For Harley’s parents. The time in the NICU is scary and hard. One day, you’ll get a call, or they’ll tell you they’re packing your babies bags, and you’ll get to go home permanently! Your baby will grow up beautifully.
I know this without a doubt. I’m a veteran NICU mom times two. My girls are 27 and 24 years old and are absolutely amazing.
Praying for you all!
Brenda Mc - January 19, 2022 1:25 pm
Your very best yet, Sean. God bless little Harley. And you.
Linda from Georgia - January 19, 2022 1:27 pm
My heart is lifted by you, every time. The first article I read several months back (maybe a year already) was Waffle House, sent by a dear friend. Thank you, thank you. God’s richest blessings to hou.
Shelton A. - January 19, 2022 1:59 pm
Laughter isn’t called the best medicine for no good reason. I’ve learned to laugh and make fun of my own tough circumstances when they’ve come. You just have to or life can break you. Maybe even break you in ways that cannot be fixed. So learn to laugh at yourself and at things, which like a ray of sunshine, which aren’t funny until you find the humor in them. God bless.
Paul McCutchen - January 19, 2022 2:00 pm
With the name Harley, you know he will be “cool” and with an Uncle Sean you know he will also be funny. The best of both worlds. You will probably be the uncle he calls when he is in trouble and he needs someone to help him explain to his parents.
Ann in Mobile - January 19, 2022 2:23 pm
You often bring on laughter with your stories, Sean. Many bring us to tears too. This one gave me poignant smiles and tears; especially tears because what you wrote is so true. Thank you, Sean!
Dottie Coltrane - January 19, 2022 3:12 pm
Your writing has made me laugh (and cry) every morning since you came to Birmingham in 2018 as a featured author of Southern Voices at the Hoover Library. A friend who attended that event told me she fell in love with your red beard.This morning’s essay about a newborn in NICU named Harley is well written and moving. However, I do take issue with the phrase “the unique brand of beuracratic (sic) ignorance that is the American foster system.” While I do not doubt that your friend Randy endured hardship as he moved from one foster home to another, I know foster parents who care for and nurture foster children just as lovingly as those born to them. The foster system should not be lumped into one holy mess.
Keep writing. The referenced sentence is the exception, not the rule.I am an 82 year old retired journalist who has made plenty of mistakes.
Ray Huckabone - January 19, 2022 3:21 pm
I’ve suffered a stroke, 2 lung cancer surgeries and another tumer taken care of by radiation.There have been other issues too but laughter is how my wife and I got through it all. Laughter and the good Lord.
BEX - January 19, 2022 3:27 pm
Sean, First: you and Jamie are soulmates. Second: God gave YOU a unique gift – you see the good, the bad and the ugly in people and life, then you make the rest of us aware that even when things are ‘bad and ugly’, better times are coming; laughter is good for the soul; thinking of others is better than being selfish; life isn’t easy but laughter eases the pain and there is a Greater Power that has his eye on us! I read my BIBLE every morning and then read your column and I am ‘ready to face the world!’ Keep on writing and sharing and helping us to survive! God bless you both.
Marilyn - January 19, 2022 3:30 pm
Saying a prayer for little Harley and all the family. Sean, your daily blog goes well with a cup of coffee to brighten my day and helps me see the good things..
Julie P, RN - January 19, 2022 3:46 pm
God Bless Uncle Sean, and his brand new baby nephew Harley✝️ I look forward to following their adventures…one cool “big” dude leading one cool “little” dude…Laughing all the Way…how precious💕. There’s a physiological reason why “Laughter (really) is the Best Medicine”…Endorphins (the “Feel Good Happy Hormones”) lower blood pressure, and also the cortisol levels that eat away at memory function. I am thrilled for Uncle Sean, and Aunt Jamie, too❣️❣️ Harvey is one very Blessed Baby💝 And one more thing…is his middle name “Sean?”
Belinda - January 19, 2022 4:02 pm
Sean. You are correct! This child will laugh! I have twins that were born premature and were in the NICU for 6 weeks. It was a very scary, touch and go time, but also a very tender and precious time. So new to the world, so much to behold. My grandmother wrote me a poem and at the time, I was so distraught, and angry and scared as a parent, I didn’t fully appreciate it, but at the end of it was “Glorius Dei.” To God Be the Glory. The kids are strong and healthy and there is joy and laughter every day. To God Be the Glory. Amen.
Patricia Schmaltz - January 19, 2022 4:03 pm
Prayers for all newborns… and especially Macy here in FWB. Such a love.
AlaRedClayGirl - January 19, 2022 4:19 pm
Laughter is medicine for the soul and body. While we cannot always control our circumstances, we can change how we respond to it.
Stacey Wallace - January 19, 2022 4:31 pm
Praying for Harley.
Melady Brown - January 19, 2022 4:55 pm
Child laughter is the best! My six year old grandson watching cat videos on YouTube. Makes my heart happy to hear him laugh like that. Yes Harley you will laugh. ❤️
Martha Gwen Sibert - January 19, 2022 5:04 pm
My great-niece, Ruby, was born January 16, 2021, at 26 weeks. She had to be delivered by C-section because her momma was having really high blood pressure and severe chest pains that meds wouldn’t alleviate. She weighed 1 pound 8 ounces and wasn’t much bigger than a little teddy bear she had. She was a real fighter though, and stayed in NICU for 97 days before she could go home. The nurses in NIICU were awesome and were in love with her. She is still a tiny little baby, but doing well, and eating and doing all of the things babies of that age do. Her family birthday party scheduled for last Sunday because she tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, she is doing fine, and is pretty much already symptomless. She smiles in all of her pictures and is a real cutie pie. Laughter is so much better than crying all of the time.
Maggie Priestaf - January 19, 2022 5:47 pm
Ann - January 19, 2022 7:37 pm
Pat McNeill - January 19, 2022 9:34 pm
Thank you!! I really needed to be reminded of an infant’s laughter, today. Thank you!!
Linda Moon - January 19, 2022 9:55 pm
A baby’s first laugh….thoughts of hearing that brought a huge smile to my face. And then, the visual of children painting with fingers broadened the smile even more. Humor IS a gift, and laughter is the best medicine. It worked for me after major surgery, and my name on the Nurse’s whiteboard became “Comic”. Really. So, I’m still smiling and will laugh later with great big smiles because I’ll be contemplating stories that you and authors give when I’m reading. Prayers are offered for Harley’s joy and laughter!
Linda Moon - January 19, 2022 10:16 pm
P.S. I just now read others’ comments…”Uncle Sean” and “Aunt Jamie”! What a great family addition for all of you!
MAM - January 19, 2022 10:43 pm
You and Jamie will be the best uncle and aunt. Harley is a lucky boy! I, too, was a preemie and stayed in the hospital for at least five weeks before I got to go home. Those were the days when 5-pound early babies had to stay in the hospital. I made up for lost time and grew to 5’10” at my tallest (I’m old and shrinking). Prayers for Harley, his mom and dad and uncle and aunt!
Karen Snyder - January 19, 2022 11:19 pm
Welcome to the world, Harley! ❤️ I’ll bet that over time you’ll find yourself with a role in some of your uncle’s daily columns. I can’t wait.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - January 20, 2022 7:11 pm