Originally published on Coping with Cancer.
I’ve done many crazy things in my life, but there are two that stick out: performing stand-up and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Both were intimidating. And both made me throw up. But there’s a third similarity (and this is the reason I attempted either of these crazy things): both comedy and Kilimanjaro provide high places – places that bring an entirely new sense of perspective.
From the time we are toddlers, we are constantly trying to find high places in order to see. We wail until we’re put in the high chair so we can see everyone at the table. We beg to be put on the shoulders of a tall person so we can see the parade. We scamper up the branches of a towering tree in order to spy on our next-door neighbor.
As adults, we continue the same quest. We peer out of observation towers atop high buildings. We gaze at the world through satellite cameras. And a few crazy people (like myself) climb tall mountains.
But you don’t have to climb Kilimanjaro to get a new perspective. You can just as easily get those same lessons in the daily chaos at ground level. You just need to find a high place of the heart.
The spirit of the human heart is basically a balloon in disguise. Not the lame sculpted-into-a-wiener-dog kind of balloon. I mean the tied-to-a-string, high-soaring, helium kind of balloon.
As a kid, I would get a helium balloon every year at the Festival in the Park held near our house. There was something transporting about holding the string of one of these maverick spheres that refused to be held down by earth or gravity. I would carry it proudly around the park, then carefully back to my room where I would tie it to my white French provincial desk chair.
When I awoke the next day, the balloon would be there bouncing happily back and forth in front of the heat vent. When I’d get home from school, it would still be there, just lower and less active. That night, it could barely hover above the chair, the string itself beginning to weigh the balloon down. And by the second morning, it would be lying on the floor, completely deflated and a fraction of its original size.
Anyone who has ever watched the life cycle of a helium balloon has also seen the full range of the human heart. When lightened, the heart soars upward, flying above all earthly constraints. When saddened and heavy, it deflates, sinks, bounces along the ground, shrinking to a fraction of its original size. Like any balloon, all it needs is a good dose of helium to get it soaring again. And the best helium for the human heart is humor.
When we laugh, we take our eyes off ourselves and our problems, even if only for a brief moment. It’s in that brief moment that we are freed of our daily worries, that we become lightened – in mood and in spirit. And, like a great helium balloon, we rise up and float above the concerns of our world below.
I think when people say “Laugh it up,” they mean it – literally. Laughter empowers the human heart to fly. When we laugh, our hearts find high places. And when we are in high places, whether on the slopes of Kilimanjaro or at home, we see the world differently. Up high, the world looks less scary. Up high, we gain a sense of appreciation. Up high, we can see our way through.