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A man looks both ways then slips onto a subway car in Boechout, Belgium. Shaved head, earphones, and a three day stubble, he is holding something under his jacket. As the train pulls out, the commuters eye him closely. This is Belgium.

When he withdraws nothing more sinister than an iPad, they look away in relief.

The man stares at the screen and starts to laugh. His shoulders roll.

Heads turn back. A passenger glances up from his phone.

Soon the man is laughing so hard he’s gasping for breath.

The commuters begin to snicker. His laughing is contagious. The more they resist the more guffaws burst through.

The iPad man is now roaring. Tears roll down his face. A wave of laughter washes across the car. They can’t help themselves. Laughter transcends age and race. It has no language. Old and young, rich and poor, black and white, the passengers double over eyes glistening. There is no stopping it now.

In his book, “Laughter,” neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Robert R. Provine observes, “Contagious laughter is a compelling display of homo sapiens, the social mammal. It strips away our veneer of culture and language and challenges the shaky hypothesis that we are rational creatures in full, conscious control of our behavior.” Rational or not, sometimes, like on this train, we’re better off just going with our instincts.

In a flash, two young commuters strip off their jackets revealing red Coca-Cola jerseys. They wade into the happy crowd handing out miniature cans of Coke along with bright red greeting cards adorned with smiley faces.

I have to hand it to Coca-Cola. By hiring one laughing man to make a commercial, it not only sold some soft drinks, but taught us an invaluable lesson. Just when we think we have hit bottom, that there is no magic strong enough to lift us from the abyss of terror and death, the human spirit proves us wrong. When perfect strangers come together for no reason other than to share the joy of a laughing man, we’ve found common ground. If only for a moment, barriers melt. There is still a chance for us.

The commercial ends with a simple placard: Happiness Starts With A Smile.

Who would deny it?

Malcolm D. Gibson
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved

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