I heard a surprising, impossible sound the other day. It made me think of what fairy bells might sound like.
A little girl who was born completely blind and deaf first smiled - and then giggled. The prettiest little giggle I'd ever heard.
Which, as usual, got me to pondering the human condition.
How can it be that a child who has never seen a smile, who has never, ever, heard another person chuckle, chortle or bellow out loud with a gut-busting roar of laughter, burble forth with her own happy giggle?
The only conclusion one can draw is that laughter is simply a basic part of the human condition - not a learned thing. It's part of what makes us human, like opposable thumbs and bad dancing.
We know that tiny babies will chortle and babble at the slightest provocation. But then again, they are usually met with big grins the moment they emerge from the womb. They see smiles. They hear laughter. When they smile it is reflected back at them by the smiles on the faces of their mother, father and grandparents.
But for a child who has never had the two vital senses of sight and hearing, it poses a bit of a conundrum. Perhaps the urge to laugh is somehow genetic.
Perhaps, like height and hair color, there is a miniscule red ball on the complex DNA strand of each person dedicated to laughter. I'd like to think so.
Most of us love a good joke or a funny movie. We often go out of our way to find things that make us laugh. Jokes proliferate on the Internet like pine beetles in the Black Hills. Some people think the comics are the best part of the newspaper.
I once read a story about a woman who had fought and won her battle against breast cancer. "I truly believe that it was laughter that cured me," she said. "I made it my goal to find something to make me laugh each and every day."
And yet, we all know people who will not, perhaps cannot, laugh. These "happiness challenged" glare with scorn at other, light-hearted people as though they were simpletons.
So perhaps our genetic predisposition to laughter can be unlearned. Maybe when the "laughter impaired" were born there were no smiling faces to welcome them into the world. Perhaps when they chortled and gurgled there were no loving family members to gurgle and chortle back. And over time the "laughter gene" shrunk.
The laughing gene must be there for a reason. Many of the traits we carry with us today we inherited from our Cro-Magnon ancestors. That's why many of our basic instincts are survival-related. Laughter might be one of these survival traits. Perhaps it provides some sort of pressure-release valve that keeps our hearts and brains strong and functioning.
That's my theory and I'm going with it.
Note: There is no valid scientific data to prove that a laughing gene exists. But then again, there is no valid scientific data to prove it does not exist.
Gretchen Mayer of Mansfield is special sections coordinator at the American News. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.