Ann teaches students with Emotional Impairments. Many come from rough home lives. Her role is mom, aunt and hard ass, all rolled into a teacher who they know loves them for who they are. One student had recently reported her mom had relapsed with her addiction to drugs, and she lost her only aunt two months earlier to an overdose.
Ann asked each student in class who they would picture giving them the message from a Loving Kindness Meditation “May you be well, happy and at peace. May you be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”
The first student said his grandfather, the next his grandma, an expected sassiness and ‘nobody loves me’ response from the boy that does have people who care about him but was looking for a distraction because feelings talk makes him uncomfortable. The last student called upon quietly said, “I don’t have anybody that would say it to me.” Ann’s tears went immediately to her throat as she realized it to be true. She took a few seconds to compose in order to keep from blubbering. “Guess what? I’ll loan you my Aunt Tobi. She was so kind and thoughtful. She worked for the postal service and delivered a lot more than mail. She scattered laughter and heartfelt love like glitter on a windy day. I know she would wish everything good and kind to you, so now you can try to picture her saying the message to you.” It was a really charged moment, and Ann looked at the student who had disengaged and said, “Now that you’ve had time to think, who is going to say it to you?” He said, “All I can hear is you talking!” “Good! You’ve got me as a teacher and you know what that means!” They laughed. The tension was gone.
Laughter is, in fact, good medicine. A good belly laugh engages the diaphragm, encouraging fresh air to fill up the lungs after the deep, stagnant air is forcibly pushed out. The vagus nerve near the diaphragm kicks in a ‘calm down’ signal to the body.
Aunt Tobi didn’t catch anything in a fishing competition. She put a stuffed animal with a white stripe down its back in her cooler. She won the consolation last place prize for being skunked. She worked hard at playing and bringing laughter wherever she went.
Humor is one of the hardest things to understand in learning a foreign language. I once attended a business meeting in Japan. During a break, the Japanese contingent openly discussed the issues not yet resolved in the negotiations. They told a joke. I laughed. Busted. They found out not only that I speak Japanese, but to a level that I understand their culture of humor. Aunt Tobi hosted over 100 international exchange students from one night to one year. Her love network expands far and wide and into at least 20 countries.
A shared belly laugh can bond souls. Inside jokes, common understanding and experiences, are why we are forever connected to friends and family. We can grow apart in many ways, but there will always be a special place in our hearts, or diaphragms, based in laughter.
Ann went around the room again. The student who was loaned Aunt Tobi said she heard her cousin say the Loving Kindness message to her. She had such joy in her voice!
Before Ann started teaching, these kids didn’t even graduate high school. Now she’s had many go on to college and most importantly, they have left her class with a future of improved emotional intelligence knowing that someone cares.
So if you are feeling unloved or unlovable, remember that Aunt Tobi loves you. That warm feeling opens the door to a realization that so many other people in your world care. Past and present, a kind word, a gentle, knowing smile, or a belly laugh shared in the purest intention of love can open souls and break down barriers between any and all kinds of people.
———- Mary Bai is a Certified Massage Therapist practicing Medical Massage in Redwood City, CA.
Aunt Tobi was her godmother on earth and for the last 16 years from heaven.