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Rich: Sometimes laughter gives more comfort than food
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To New York City, once I went to do a photo shoot for the cover of a book.

It was less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, the original shoot date having been scheduled for Sept. 12, then postponed for reasons now too well known to all mankind.

The photographers' studio was in a wood-floored, brick-walled loft located only a few blocks east of the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. Outside, the air smelled uniquely in a way I sense I shall never smell again. Nor do I hope I do.

It was a mixture of all that burned on that tragic day - steel, wood, plastic, fuel and flesh.

New Yorkers, still in shock, walked quietly down the streets, their eyes sadly cast downward to the ground, their lips pursed tightly together. And the strangest sound of all was that there was no sound.

A city renowned for its hustle and bustle simply whispered like a child who is afraid to raise her voice lest she be noticed and struck by an abusive adult.

I think I shall never forget the day that I did not hear the normally obnoxious horn blaring from a single taxicab. It was as if the end of time hovered silently above the sky-touching buildings.

To that silent city I came, heavy with heart for their pain, as was the feelings of most Americans. But with me, I brought something they needed. I brought a touch of the South and the delicious, soul-raising humor that had revived our people when our land had been devastated, some murdered and others burned out of their homes and businesses.

I had no intentions of laughter when I crawled aboard the nearly empty jet at the Atlanta airport. Tense, I bit my lower lip apprehensively as federal officials came aboard and escorted off two suspicious, angry men.

There was no happiness or gaiety on that plane nor did I find any in the Fifth Avenue hotel where I checked in, none at dinner with friends that night and none in that photographer's loft when I arrived.

A stylist, hairdresser, make-up artist, photographer, two assistants and my editor gather for the day-long shoot. Initially, I behaved reverently as though I was attending a funeral but an hour after I arrived, I mumbled a witty, self-deprecating remark as I modeled an absurd outfit the stylist had chosen. It's hard to keep my mouth shut even when I know I should.

Someone laughed. Then, like bubbles popping to the surface in a glass of champagne, the laughter spread from one to another.

All I need is a little encouragement and when I got it, I was off and running. For the rest of the day, I entertained with stories from home, interjecting liberally with the humor for which we are renowned.

Laughter lilted through that loft and smidgens of light returned to their eyes. A gaiety of spirit permeated the previously solemn air and before my very eyes there emerged a renewal of the ever-resilient human spirit.

That day I realized the magical healing power of laughter. I discovered a new appreciation for the effectiveness of laughing in the face of adversity.

The car arrived to take me to the airport and those smiling New Yorkers gathered at the door to bid me good-bye.

"You're just what the doctor ordered," one declared, clasping my shoulders tightly and looking deep into my eyes.

"I wish we could share you with all of New York," another said.

On the drive to the airport, I studied on the situation and by the time I reached LaGuardia, I had come to a conclusion.

The South's people are renowned for our sense of humor. Sometimes sharing that with those in sorrow is better than the best casserole.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter at