That Autumn when the rest of the leaves had finally fallen and the sky was blanketed low in the way it seems to do in late November, I was twelve years old trying to cook Maltex on an old gas cookstove without burning it. At the same time I was wondering where I’d put my schoolbooks and hoping my sisters wouldn’t miss their bus. I left the stove for the bathroom to see if I smelled like pee because my baby sister, whom I’d shared a bed with and who wasn’t quite potty-trained, had wet the bed. On my way out of the bathroom, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Making a face, I asked myself why my teeth were so crooked and my breasts weren’t growing.
Well, one of them was.
One small perfectly round lump on my left side imperceptibly protruded from my sweater.
I’m a boob cyclops.
The sharp scent of maple snapped me back to my present.
I ran to the kitchen. Only days before my dad had announced he was leaving the family and now I’d gone and burnt the Maltex. So began a season of stumbles and falling downs.
Life’s fury has a way of unexpectedly sweeping you off your feet and you find yourself with a mouthful of carpet.
Some days you are thinking…how did I get here? What has become of my life?
On top of everything else, is it possible to have one good hair day?
You need relief.
A reprieve from the perfect storm of bewilderment and pain.
It’s not that you want to live in denial. It’s just that your best medicine for a brief moment may be laughter.
It must be stupid, belly-aching, thigh-slapping, tears running down the face laughter.
In the 1970’s, I laughed like that every Saturday night. When all my days were a weighted November gray, Saturday night was my relief, release, reprieve.
Carol Burnett was on television. For one hour I forgot about the Hamburger Helper split six ways and free school lunches and cheap department store underwear that left an elastic mark across my belly button and made me feel like an old lady.
I forgot about my crooked teeth and my funnel chest and the acne that was taking over my chin. I didn’t think to check the smell of my armpits or wonder if I’d go to prom.
I gave no thought to zits, bras or boys.
The sadness over my mother having to work extra weekend nights and wondering where my father was got shoved into the background of my heart.
For the moment everything was okay. Abandonment moved to the sidelines.
I was laughing.
The Carol Burnett Show kept my feet on the ground when all I wanted to do was run away from my life. For one hour every Saturday I learned it was okay to be goofy and awkward.
I became a fan.
Not the crazy, stalking, sleep-on-the-sidewalk-outside-her-apartment kind of fan.
Just a kid who saw herself in the funny girl.
A kid who realized that not everyone gets to be the pretty girl. Besides, the pretty girl’s life isn’t perfect, either. Everyone has a broken heart.
Carol Burnett did not save me.
She did not shed any of her blood for me.
She did not blot out my transgressions.
She did not heal any of my broken places.
She simply made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry.
You can’t cry all the time.
Sometimes you have to laugh.
Like when you’ve grown up and you still can’t find a bra that fits right.
Or when you decide to try a radical new hairstyle before the prom. Or your wedding.
When you think you have fashion sense. But you don’t.
When you are out of the loop and no one will tell you anything and you have to resort to eavesdropping.
When your children tell you that waking you suddenly from a sound sleep in the middle of the night scares them so they deal with their nightmares and puking on their own.
When you realize that some people are exceptionally blessed and it makes you want to scream.
When you come to the end of a brutal election season….
Life can be a mess.
Sometimes it is all we can do to push our mop and bucket around our heart spills and soul-shattered pieces.
Time goes by.
November isn’t as gray as she used to be.
You’ve come into a new season.
There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
God knows all your weepings and mournings.
He also knows all your laughings and dancings.
He makes time for them all.
God lives in the tension and mystery of hunger and satisfaction.
We can find Him between the weeping and the laughter.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Carol Burnett said hello to me once.
During the “bump up the lights” segment of a concert she gave at the Hanover Theatre a few years ago, people were given the opportunity to ask her a question. My friend Vicki, an amazing performer herself and who happened to have floor seats at the same concert, raised her hand. I watched as Carol pointed to her.
How great is that? My friend, another life-long fan is getting called on by the Carol Burnett! What’s her question? Maybe she’ll get invited to come up onstage!
Then, these words…
“My friend Mitsie McKellick from Maine, who is sitting just up there, would love a hello from you.”
Wait…what is happening….and…. just like that Ms. Burnett turned toward me, put her hand up to her mouth Tarzan yell style and hollered, “Hello, Mitsie McKellick from Maine!”
I stood and waved.
And deeply, all the way to my guts, humbled.
My friend gave up her question. Gave up her chance in the spotlight with a comedy icon.
Gave it up for me, the kid who always saw herself in the funny girl.
A small thing in the lens of eternity, perhaps, but a gift, nonetheless.
Did I have a question for Ms. Burnett that night? Not really. If I did have the opportunity to speak with her I would simply say thank you. Not because she had the superhuman power of taking a broken twelve year old girl and putting her back together again. I know that Jesus is my one and only put-back-together-er. I know that I live under the smile of God and that quite possibly He used a funny lady to ease some of my sadness.
So I would look Carol right in the eye and say thank you. Because when life is really hard, sometimes all you can do is let out a Tarzan yell.
Thank you, Carol Burnett, for showing me how it’s done.