A Lesson in Laughter

Concentrating on glossing my outlined lips in the Ladies room mirror, I suddenly froze. Gales of laughter were pouring out of the bathroom stall.

I recognized the sound. It belonged to my mentor, Darryle Pollack.

Darryle had taken me under her wing at WTVJ -TV in Miami the summer of '73. I was her lowly intern. She was (and still is) beautiful, funny and smart -- the kind of smart that produces pangs of insecurity; like being in the first graduating class of women at Yale. And as much as I adored her company and was soaking up her wisdom, I was green as green could be and she was, in my mind, the image of erudition.

But here in the women's restroom, of all places, Darryle was about to show me two more virtues she possessed -- and perhaps in retrospect -- the ones I've come to admire most -- her sense of humor and self-deprecation.

The stall door opened and out walked my idol in her chic Diane Furstenberg-style dress. But her well-put-together outfit wasn't so well put together. She was cradling a sopping and sad-looking, long thin piece of fabric.

"My belt fell into the toilet!"

She was gulping for air, laughing, as if this was the funniest thing that ever happened to her-- like she was caught on Candid Camera, and loving that the joke was on her.

Darryle was so unashamed, so unembarrassed (washing her belt out in the sink), and her laughter so contagious that I couldn't help but join in.

What I didn't know on that summer day, was that Darryle was handing me a gift, a life lesson. She was showing me how to find humor in embarrassing, stressful times and how to laugh at misfortunes.

And Darryle had no idea on that summer day, her sense of humor and self ridicule would be a guiding light leading her through a very dark storm.

That storm came decades later. As a young mother, Darryle was given a piece of news that changed her life -- she had Stage Three breast cancer. Today the disease is openly talked about and information is everywhere; back then breast cancer was still hush-hush, a private topic. Its victims often suffered in silence.

But Darryle was intrepid. She researched, questioned her doctors and then questioned some more. She found a new and experimental treatment plan -- a protocol that ultimately saved her life.

How she was able to find humor and laugh at herself while plowing through a medical bureaucracy and a private hell is mind boggling. But she did. And she describes that journey in her book, I Didn't Sign Up for This, a true page turner.

I won't be a spoiler but Darryle's storytelling will have you in tears on one page and laughing out loud the next.

I'm writing this recollection on Thanksgiving so it's a perfect day to text Darryle and thank her for her friendship and tell her I'm taking a moment to laugh at myself: I didn't wear my glasses this morning when I set the oven temperature and the turkey is -- let's put it nicely -- very well done.

And I may add this to my text: I'll remind her she may have fished her belt out of the commode-- but I rummaged through my smelly trash can this morning and pulled out a piece of crumpled tin foil. I ran out of the silver stuff and needed to cover my overcooked bird.

I'm enjoying the chuckle and praying my family never reads this.