In another post, I wrote about the clown show that I made when my daughter was born. In the show I referred to ‘a story’ or ‘my story’ and that people connect with it. It’s a compelling story. It is also central to my ‘why’, my greater purpose in life. I’ve told this story many times in many different ways over the years. Telling this story almost landed me a fantastic performing gig. This story was the basis of my solo clown performance. This story speaks to my purpose here on the planet. This story, in the words of Simon Sinek, is my ‘why’.
I discovered my why almost thirty years ago
I’ve known my purpose since the end of the eleventh grade. I was in the school play. Why? The previous year I watched the school play. Why? I had a crush on a girl who was in it. I wanted to spend time with this girl. So I auditioned and was given a small, comedic role.
The play wasn’t the thing
I wasn’t there for the love of theatre. I was there to meet a girl. This isn’t a story about acting. Or a story about that girl. This is the story of me and my grandfather. My grandfather was my hero. He was a woodcutter. He could skate faster than the wind and could fix everything. When I was stung by a bunch of wasps? He filled me with candy. He knew how to play. When I was very young, we’d play hide and seek. When I got older and was a petulant preteen? He gave me a pie in the face. All in good fun.
My grandfather’s’ favorite saying seemed to be ‘good enough’. Good enough. What wonderful words. For him I was always good enough. When I was thirteen I loved basketball. I loved it so much that I didn’t want to go visit my grandparents in the country anymore. I’d rather play. Knowing this, my grandfather took an old milk crate, cut the bottom out of it and nailed it above his garage. ‘Good enough?’ he asked me. ‘Good enough’, I replied. To this day that makeshift basketball net is still there at my grandmother’s house. I feel great comfort every time I see it.
This is a sad story
That year, as I was rehearsing the play, my grandfather became ill. After a series of tests we learned that he had cancer. Pancreatic cancer. I was devastated. And I was young. I kept rehearsing. I kept going on dates, skateboarding – just doing teenage stuff, while my grandfather was fighting for his life.
The fall of a hero
While my grandfather received cancer treatment, he stayed in town with us. Between my grandfather’s illness and the chemotherapy, I watched as they robbed him of his power. His bright eyes became sunken. His powerful handshake, shakey. His face lost all colour. It was like he was becoming a ghost before my very eyes.
Something extraordinary happened
With this loss as part of the backdrop, the school play opened. My grandfather? He never was one to sit still. He typically was great for going fishing or teaching me about forests. Going to the events his grandchildren were in wasn’t his forte. But on the opening night of the school play, he was there to see me, his grandson, on stage as an actor for the first time. This was extraordinary. Given the fact he was in chemotherapy, he probably shouldn’t have been in a room with four hundred other people. And he was there.
I made my first entrance. People laughed. My timing must have been pretty good, or I must have looked really silly, because I didn’t say anything and the audience laughed. I heard my grandfather’s laugh ringing out over the crowd. While on stage, I went from one silly bit of business to another. I mugged, gestured, and hammed it up every second I could. Each time that I did, people laughed harder – none as fully as my grandfather. Years later, recounting her side of the story, my grandmother told me that my grandfather had laughed so hard, he nearly fell out of his chair.
Something else extraordinary happened
After the show, I ran out into the lobby and was shocked with what I found. There was my grandfather. His cheeks, recently ghostly had colour. His eyes had their sparkle back. It was as though for just one moment he was healthy again. For just one moment, I had my grandfather back. He pumped my hand with his mighty paw. To this day, I can remember it as clearly as though it was a moment ago. He said: “I never knew ya had it in ya to be so funny.” For just that moment, he looked healthy. For just a moment, everything was good enough.
It’s the best medicine really
I learned that day that laughter heals. My grandfather didn’t get better. He died four months later. But that moment where he looked healthy, that’s how I remember him. For just a moment, through levity, through play, and through laughter, everyone felt better. He and I were able to better abide by the realities of our existence.
Our lives are composed of one little moment after another
So, why am I a clown? Because, in the depths of despair, in the darkest of times, when life is most bleak, we can find moments of pleasure. Moments of laughter. Moments of connection. Moments of love. When my grandfather was dying, I learned that laughter really is the best medicine.
Send in the clowns
They say you discover your clown in the moments when things are so sad and you cry so much that a small pivot happens, and you start to laugh. Or conversely when things are so wonderful, when you are so overwhelmed with joy and levity that you start to cry. The clown lives there – on the head of a pin, at that pivot point, in the liminal space between laughing and crying. The actions of extreme laughing and crying take place in the same part of the body. They are the wonderful, necessary actions that can help all of us heal. They are powerful responses that can help us abide by the realities of existence.
The music, people, and art I’m attracted to have this liminal quality to them. The the work of Nova Scotia folk artist, Maud Lewis, touches me this way. Her pain and joy is apparent in every simple painting. Roberto Benigni’s, Life is Beautiful, is perhaps the greatest clown movie ever. So, why do I do what I do? Laughter heals. And in those moments when we are most vulnerable and most human, we can cry until we laugh and laugh until we cry and connect with each other in the joyous pain of existence.
Old wine, new bottles
I’ve never told this story like this before – written, to a reader. In doing so, I’m missing something on my end – your reaction as you read this. Your pauses, your breath, the look in your eyes. Typically when I tell this story, I gauge how intimate, how vulnerable to make my delivery based on your reaction. By writing, I’m abandoning what has been comfortable for me. I’m most comfortable being present with people in the moment when I tell stories, I’m most comfortable adjusting on the fly based on subtle feedback from the listener. Having said that, this is the internet. There is lots of room here for feedback. Please comment below. Let me know the impact of this story. I’m curious.