Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Clowns are Bearers of the Sacred

I like clowns.  

Some people don’t. I hope they’re thinking of birthday clowns who only entertain children. 

For a time, I was one. Not a birthday clown. I was on the mime side of things, which is a different story. I still wore whiteface, which is the point, I suppose.

The clowns I admire include circus clowns because their skits confront the powers of the world that control much of our lives, and point out their limitations. Clowns probe the stereotypes in society and deal constructively with their problems. They demonstrate the indestructibility of hope. No matter what happens to them, like getting run over by a car filled with other clowns, they always spring back up. “You can’t kill hope!” they say, although grief gives us a stiff run for the money.

Emmett Kelley, a Ringling Brothers clown, was known as “Weary Willie.” He felt that his character provided needed relief for people, helping those who were feeling sad and beaten down by life to smile again. He also poked fun at those who thought too highly of themselves.  

Black Elk, a Heyoka clown and Lakota Sioux elder, felt the same way. There are strong traditions of clowns in Native American societies. The Koyemshi clowns of the Pueblo culture even make fun of death because, you know, this really isn’t the end.

There is a long history of religious clowns throughout history. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized a bunch of holy fools as saints, like St. Philip Neri, who used to put out altar candles by throwing nuts at them.

Clowns play with the absurdities of life, like when we do everything right and it still comes out wrong.  And how, on the other hand, we do everything wrong and it somehow turns out right. Clowns remind us that we get through a tragedy by never giving up home and remembering to laugh every day. 

Humor cuts through the proliferation of pompous prose and gets to the punch line, or enlightenment, as Buddhists would say.

If you can still laugh when you're grieving, you know you're still alive.

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