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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Married to Stand-Up Comedy
The third time the MC stepped on stage my nervousness rose and settled at the base of my throat. I stared at him with wide eyes as if watching a car accident rather than stand-up comedy. The laughter from the audience coaxed me back to reality, “he’s going to do fine,” I repeated to myself, “he’s been doing this for years!” Pete was the next comedian scheduled to perform; he was third on the list – perfect, I thought, just enough time for me to adjust and ease my nerves. It took a few extra minutes for me to warm-up to the first comedian before laughter took over and my anxiety hid under a pile of hilarity, almost forgetting that Pete was moments away from performing.
We’d been dating for a few short months. Ours was a long-distance relationship between Chicago and New York. Since we met I’d been skipping the streets of Chicago with a bounce in my step that attracted the smiles of perfect strangers. I had heard people say that when you meet the one you just know - a phrase I was never naïve enough to embrace until it happened to me. We met in the Swiss Alps, a fairytale encounter at the base of a mountain a few feet from Interlaken’s famous waterfall. That night under a dark star-lit sky and the glow of a full moon, we sat on the roof of our hostel and talked until the sun broke the night sky. Every so often he’d look at me and smile. It’s like melting, that feeling, but that night it was like rising, growing taller and watching sights over a hedge in colors never before seen – with each smile the colors grew more vivid and bright. It was then, only twelve hours after meeting that every cell in my body woke up to that knowing. My skin, my hair, the hollow behind my knees, every part of me filled with light; unexpectedly and without warning, I was officially struck by cupid’s arrow.
This was our third weekend together and apparently a perfect time for us to step inside the comedy world as a couple. Never had I imagined dating a man who performed for a living, considering I spent most of my life avoiding the spotlight instead of directly facing it. The mere thought of watching my guy practically naked, totally exposed and vulnerable in front of a live audience had me frantic. Young, fragile and insecure, I was paralyzed with a fear that had me questioning: What if he fails? What if he's not funny? What if he feels embarrassed? What if things change? Will I still feel the same way about him?
As Pete made his way toward the stage my stomach tightened with dread. It was heavy and hot, like a brick in the noonday sun. While chewing the last bit of nail polish off my nail I looked up and met Pete’s eyes. He smiled at me the way he did the night after we met, instantly bringing me back to the sensation of a soft gentle breeze on a warm day. Without thinking, I put my trust in faith and let go of fear.
“Worrying is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do but won’t get you anywhere.” – proverb
That evening was an unexpected joy ride that permanently imprinted my heart. Pete’s strength, courage and confidence had me spinning with admiration. I had never witnessed vulnerability exposed in an open package of pride. His energy formed a connection throughout the room that put everyone under a spell of happiness transpired from a sarcastic honesty we all related to. I saw a man deeply rooted in himself, aligned to his truth, and expressing it fearlessly on stage (see Trusting Your Truth). It was my first real brush with genuine authenticity, giving me the courage to one day fully step into myself. Since then, I never again doubted Pete’s ability as a performer and soon noticed that his passion seeped into all aspects of his life, the stage merely an obvious expression of it.
When time horizons are long, as typical in our mid-twenties, we’re eager to explore with keen interest in all things novel. This new experience became a thrill, an adventure that kept me on the heels of suspense. But as life progressed and my carefree twenties develop into the heavy responsibilities of my thirties, the excitement of joke telling began to lose its flare. Jokes about my biteplate annoyed me. And questions like - “Is it really an absolute must to talk about our sex life on stage?” became regular conversation starters. We’d spend long hours arguing about what was “appropriate” on stage. Almost always parting from the discussion feeling like nothing was accomplished. In the end, comedy was about exposure. My life became ours and that meant I got stage time – no matter how I felt about the deal. Eventually the comedy scene began to wear on me, no longer a thrill ride but instead a heavy obligation. Nightmares haunted my sleep – dreams about standing on stage, and performing Pete’s act myself, told me it was time to take a break.
For a few years I rarely saw Pete perform – mainly because the newness of motherhood took center stage. Instead of a dark room full of strangers with a two-drink minimum to entertain, my audience was two little girls who required lots attention and an abundance of love.
Recently I’ve revisited the scene and was overcome with a new sense of wonder, as if watching him for the first time all over again. Did the content of his jokes change? Becoming less about me and more about life, politics and current events? Or did my reaction to his act change? Maybe it was a combination of both. These past years of dedicated personal growth have been a gradual process of self-awareness and discovery. Twelve years ago, when I first saw Pete perform there was an inner voice that knocked at my spirit giving me permission to one-day dig deep. I’ve since found the courage and strength to become better acquainted with my truth, revealing my inner world in all its pain and glory and creating an inner sense of comfort, security and trust (see Stepping Into Fear). This rooted foundation allowed me to watch our lives exposed on stage with a sense of pride and fulfillment. Sharing our stories with the intent to brighten the spirits of perfect strangers keeps me buzzing with happiness.
Pete’s performance made me laugh so fiercely for so long my abdominal muscles ached from overuse. My entire face hurt from sustaining a wide-open smile for over 45-minutes. It was a visceral uncontrollable laugh that affected my entire body, lifting my spirit so high that my feet barely touched the ground. I laughed not only because of my newfound self-confidence, I laughed because my husband was absolutely hysterical. The mood was set, the energy was high – and we as an audience felt connected to the guy on stage –we related to his story, his life, his family and thanks to him we took life less seriously, even if only for a short while.
Since that night, every time I watch my husband on stage (or eavesdrop on silly conversations/games he has with our kids or when he makes me spontaneously laugh out loud) I’m reminded of the important role laughter plays in life. It’s infectious and contagious; it binds people together creating a domino of joy and happiness. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body into balance than a good hearty laugh. It lightens burdens and offers added courage and strength to see new sources of meaning and hope.
Laughter is not always possible or even appropriate! But I’ve noticed that all laughter usually begins or ends with a smile. A smile in the dark by a mountainside under a moonlit sky led me to a life full of laughter. The memory of which still remains like the sunrise that followed. A mere smile can trigger the release of endorphins, hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Here’s a staggering statistic: children on average smile 400 times a day. Adults? Twenty times a day. Wouldn’t it befit us as adults to practice the art of smiling more often? It is a simple exercise of remembering something wonderful in the past or being grateful for the present. How could walking down the street wearing a contagious smile inspire other people? Hopefully people we pass will be positively impacted, return the smile or at the very least have them wondering what we’re up to! Witnessing this kind of chain reaction makes me wonder - what if just smiling is one of our most powerful tools for changing the world?
“A smile is like the stillness in winter when the snow dampens the sounds of the world.” – Mark Collantes