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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Clowns are Bearers of the Sacred

I like clowns.  

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

For a time, I was one, although I was more often on the mime side of things, which is a different story. I still wore whiteface, which is the point.

The clowns I admire include circus clowns because their skits confront and make fun of 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 clowns, they always spring back up. “You can’t kill hope!” they say. 

 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.

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, when we do everything wrong, it somehow turns out right. Clowns remind us that we will get through a tragedy if we never give up hope and we remember to laugh and celebrate every day. 

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

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

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

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