Laughing in Church


Owen curls forward on the church pew, close to touching his curly head to the back of the cotton dress shirt of the man in front of him. He is snarffing in the crook of his arm.  Despite the fact that he is stuffing his mouth into his sleeve, little noises are escaping.  He turns to look at me, trying with his whole body to repress the mirth that is crinkling his eyes up and shaking his body.

That’s new.  Owen frequently laughs in church.  What’s different today is that he truly has a case of the giggles, and he’s trying so hard to repress them.  His genuine, forbidden, over-spilling mirth is contagious, and I find myself (veteran that I am) fighting the upturning corners of my mouth.  I shake my head at him.  I wonder what the joke is.

I slid in next to Edward and the boys a little late this morning, since I brought snacks this week and got caught up in chatting in the church kitchen.  Our placement in the back of the center row of pews is Edward’s choice.  I can’t help worrying whether the family in the row ahead of us sat there after Edward and the boys came in, fully conscious of what they might be putting themselves through, or if they were there first and we joined them.  This particular family already puts up with a lot from Owen, since they happen to be our next door neighbors.  Personally, I believe in spreading the love around a little.  But Edward is cheerfully oblivious to these sorts of subtleties.  Lucky guy.

Owen’s noises are pretty famous at our church, after all these years.  People there knew him when he was a yappy, fussy baby, a paper crinkling toddler, and an occasional speaker.  More recently he’s been a plastic twister and snapper.  Thankfully, he seems to have moved through the recent phase of letting the most amazing belches fly in that quiet space. (Cross fingers and knock on wood, if that isn’t inconsistent.)  Every Sunday we would wonder, what is it about church? One Sunday during services last summer, Owen really let ‘er rip.  One of our friends said kindly afterward that he felt the relief from that belch himself from three rows back.

Owen is an innocent fellow.  I’m just not sure how innocent.  He has always been amused by being a pest, prone to chortling at other people’s irritation.  And innocent or not, I draw the line at his new tendency to lean over to one side the better to release the noxious gasses that are roiling in his gut.  Giggling mom and Owen exit church to find a seat in the foyer.  A complete calm falls over him there, and he sighs as we sit together in the chairs against the wall in the carpeted reception area. I can still hear the sermon, but I am distracted.  I keep wondering What was so funny? and is he doing it on purpose?


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