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The Club Where Hospital Staff And Patients Blow Off Steam By Laughing At Nothing

Gabriel Spitzer
Tita Begashaw (right) leads the Harborview Laughter Club twice a month.

It’s midday on a Tuesday, and people are scattered around the green lawn of Harborview Park, having lunch. Amid their quiet murmurs and the drone of traffic on nearby I-5, comes a thundering sound: laughter.

About a dozen people stand in a rough circle near the park’s center, red in the face, doubled over laughing.

Welcome to Harborview’s laughter club. For nearly two decades this is where doctors, patients, staff and members of the community have come together twice a month to laugh at nothing. It’s a way for people connected to this hospital to blow off steam.

“When you feel good, you’re able to support your patients in a positive way, You don’t get stressed,” says the group’s leader, Tita Begashaw.

Begashaw wears a bright purple top and makes sweeping gestures as she speaks. She is, as one participant describes her, “a force of nature.”

“Laughter is a short distance between two people,” Begashaw declares to the group, breathing hard in between roars of laughter. “Laughter is a universal language. Humor is individual, laughter is universal.”

Laughter has been linked to a host of healing effects: lower stress hormones, increased immune response and even a reduction in pain, to name a few.

It’s something Tita Begashaw has observed in her own life.

“A lot of tough times in my life,” Begashaw says, in a more somber tone.

Begashaw fled her native Ethiopia in 1988, as a civil war and political unrest smoldered. She was granted political asylum in the United States.

“My younger brother was in jail for a long time, [for] political reasons. And I was very sad … losing my mom, my younger brother in jail, also my uncle, it was very tough. But passing through that life experience, the difficult time is over. It’s gone. Now I’m here to celebrate my life,” she says.

That’s a message Begashaw delivers to the laughter devotees two Tuesdays a month at Harborview.

“Be here in the now,” she exhorts. “Look at being outside, look at the clouds, look at the wind. Open your eyes! Say thank you! Be in the moment! Open yourself, and laugh! Laugh!”

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.