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  • Writer's picturePaul Cotter

The Power of Laughter

A candid moment of laughter

This old photo from 1979 has special meaning for me. It’s not significant because it has any great technical or artistic merit; I took it with a cheap 110 film pocket camera and its tiny, glaring flash. But still, this picture has a special place in my heart because of the moment it captured and the story behind it.


This is a picture of my father sharing a laugh with my fiancée Bonnie, who six months later would become my wife. My Dad was 56 years old and he was a year and a half away from being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.


In 1979, awareness of Alzheimer’s was astonishingly low compared to today. My Dad's doctor wasn’t even suspicious that his patient had been showing symptoms of mental decline for more than five years. When I was in high school, my father was fired from his job of 35 years because he could no longer make decisions or handle pressure.


By the time I took this photograph, my Dad had lost a long string of jobs — each one lower in pay and responsibility than the job before. Since no medical condition was suspected, everyone assumed he was simply having a crisis in confidence and he was urged to pull himself together.


Despite the humiliation he felt — and the fear that somehow, something was wrong with him — my Dad managed to laugh.


I recently re-watched a remarkable documentary called The Lady In Number 6. This Academy Award-winning short film is about Alice Herz-Sommer, a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor and world-class classical concert pianist. In concentration camps, she experienced horrors that most of us could never imagine, but the brightness of her spirit could never be diminished. Even at age 109, her small apartment was filled with her effervescent laughter and the glorious sound of her piano, which Alice still played with passion for one hour every day.


I look at it this way: If Alice could laugh, and if my Dad could laugh, then certainly I can find something to be cheerful about regardless of the circumstances. Let’s give ourselves – and everyone around us – the gift of a good laugh today.

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