Live, Laugh, Love

Author: Michele Hiester Marcum

Recently, I had the privilege of browsing with friends in a rural flea market setting.  As I wandered from booth to booth, up and down each gravel-packed aisle, I noticed how repetitious the vendors' offerings became.  The same décor, the same clothing, the same garden supplies, the same meaningless treasures. It seems that the world is full of advice these days, on every available surface, from home to garden.  If a thought has ever been thought, it can most likely be found on a bumper sticker, t-shirt or sign somewhere in a flea market.  Entire companies now even exist for the sole purpose of adorning our walls with adhesive messages in any font, color or size!   More times than I can remember on that day, I saw the same words repeated on varying home furnishings, but there was one particular refrain that snagged my attention: Live, Laugh, Love. Yes, I'd seen it countless times before, but on this day, it followed me home.  And on the drive back, those words stuck in my brain and tumbled around there as I considered their weight. 

Live, Laugh, Love

To rattle them off in sequence, they simply must be read in that very order: First Live, then laugh, then love.  To scramble them in any way would be awkward and somehow less meaningful.  Laugh, love, live?  No, I don't think so.  It just feels disjointed to me, as though it violates the natural order of things. 

As if there really is any logical order to these commanding verbs, right?

Most of us visiting this blog are probably doing so because we have personal experience with military-related loss.  Someone we love has died, and we're attempting to navigate a world without their physical presence.  Words like live, laugh and love now come with question marks permanently imbedded within them.  While those simple action words might have once elicited snappy automatic responses, we're not sure we'll ever again succeed in those once-simple tasks.  What is living?  Who can laugh?  How can you love again when the life and laughter have disappeared?

I remember shortly after my brother died that time would just disappear.  It didn't drag by.  It didn't roar past.  It just simply evaporated.  I couldn't remember what I had scheduled or what I had eaten.  To be honest, I'm not really sure who took care of my children and our home.  I know the important tasks got accomplished, but I can't tell you how.  I simply don't remember.  Living meant two things, I now realize: breathing in and breathing out.  Thankfully, those were created to be an automated process, or I might not have survived.  I couldn't give conscious thought to life when I was so consumed by the pain of loss.  Death changes everything, taking the life you once lived and painting it a darker shade, hiding all the details that brightened your world.  But I did live.  Not like I did before he died, of course, but I somehow made it. 

And then there was that five-letter command that seemed impossible: laugh.  The boys in my house find humor in everything from bodily functions to gimmicky television injuries.  I don't enjoy that so much anymore.  Once you've been hurt… really hurt… I think you feel things more deeply.  Compassion overrides laughter that comes at another's expense.  Life is funny in an ironic, disappointing, confusing sort of way sometimes, but true laughter - the kind that erupts without notice - is elusive once you've faced death.  But it's also the kind worth pursuing.  Sometimes it's all you need.  And all you have left to hang on to.  Laughter gives chase to healing, and healing allows you to forge ahead, building a new life on memory's foundation.

Love, on the other hand, is the most baffling for me.  It intensifies, while at the same time battles with the what-ifs and if-onlys, waging wars in the heart that can never be won.  It just simply is.  I don't love like I used to, and I don't love the life I now have like I once did.  But I love differently.  I love more intensely, more purposefully, more forgivingly.  I am a better person for having been loved by my brother, and for having learned to love through loss.  It's not the path I would have chosen, but it is a path that has ultimately led me through some unexpected growth in the midst of some bottomless valleys.  It's such a self-defeating prophecy we hand ourselves when someone dies.  We long to honor their lives, and yet we somehow think we should do it without feeling anything but sorrow.  Don't get me wrong - sorrow will always be my best friend, but unfathomable love is her twin sister. The two cannot be separated, nor would I ever want to.

In the end, life is short.  There's never enough time, regrets might often outweigh gratitude, and  none of us live forever.  I would give anything for just one more day with my brother, but that just can't be right now.  I could sell my soul to the crushing grief that would steal me away if I let it, but I am confident that isn't the life he would want for me.  Or for any of you.  Our military heroes know why they do what they do. They do it so that we Americans have the freedom to live, laugh and love. 

Perhaps I should have bought one of those signs after all.