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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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Clowns Are Bearers of Compassion

I like clowns. Some people don’t. Maybe they’re thinking of birthday clowns who entertain children and make squeaky balloon animals. Or the demented creeps who terrorize the woods. Or maybe the neo-fascist I-hate-people clowns. If this is the case with you, then think about fools instead. Fools like Buster Keaton, who, through his innocence and vulnerability, made us laugh and changed the world around him. Shakespeare had his rustic fools.

For a time, I was on the mime side of things, but that’s a different story. I had classical Balinese training, and I wore whiteface, which is the point I’m trying to make, I guess. Maybe not.

I admire circus clowns because their skits make fun of the self-professed grandeur of the high and mighty of the world who control much of our lives. Clowns have always been around in some form. Our circus clowns evolved out of characters like Harlequin and Pierrot in the English theater in the 17thcentury, which evolved out of the commedia dell’arte of Italy that came from the ancient Greek and Roman theater. There was also a Medieval Feast of Fools that, at the end, got out of hand. That’s a different story, too.

Clowns often challenge cultural stereotypes and deal constructively with society’s problems. Clowns are Jungian archetypes.

They also demonstrate the indestructibility of hope. No matter what happens to them, like getting run over by a car filled with other clowns, they spring back up. “You can’t kill hope!” they say, although grief gives us a good run for the money. Are there grief clowns?

Emmett Kelly, a Ringling Brothers clown, was known as “Weary Willie.” He felt that his character provided needed relief for people who were feeling sad, and helped those beaten down by life to smile again. Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux elder and a Heyhoka clown, felt the same way.

The dual roles of priest and clown are common. There is a long history of religious fools and clowns throughout cultures around the world, including tricksters 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. The Russian and Greek Orthodox Christian Churches have canonized 42 of their religious fools as saints.

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

Fools point out the absurdities of life, like when we do everything right and it still comes out wrong. Or how we bumble and do everything wrong and it somehow turns out right. Fools remind us that we get through a tragedy like grief by facing it, even though we are quaking in our boots, and by never giving up hope in the unexpected.
As long as we can laugh when we’re grieving, we know we’ll be okay. It’s when the laughter stops that I worry.