My Psalm 88
Tears of a Clown
In reporting the death of actor Robin Williams the second week of August, the website news.com.au discussed the link between comedic genius and pain. “Think of it as a more modern take on that old “tears of a clown” cliché, or the bullied kid becoming the “class clown” to deflect the barbs of his foes and subdue them with laughter. So it was for Robin Williams. Put him on a stage or in front of a camera and out poured a whirlwind of manic energy, pitch-perfect impressions, super-fast wit and improbable improvisation. But sit him down for a quiet chat and a serious thinker with a progressive political mind emerged.”
Robin Williams himself referenced the clichéd “tears of a clown” in this 2011 quote: “You can be the most brilliant guy in the world and still be upset, not handling life well.” The entertainment industry has many whose lives are a testament to this. British actor Stephen Fry has a bipolar disorder and suicide is in his resume. Actors John Belushi, Chris Farley, David Williams, Matt Lucas, Spike Mulligan are all veterans of the laugh-a-minute-cry-inside club.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best perhaps: ““Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” Aging comes with its own set of challenges. As children we learned to respond to taunts with the old “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt them” but while true, it only tells half of the story. A playground bully’s word may not cause physical harm but the psychological damage is eternal.
The façade we present to society is often our first line of defense in coping with life. The big house, the fancy car, the vacation pictures from exotic locales are mere disguises. It is all too prevalent in the world today and very unpopular to simply be. Letting people into our real selves, letting someone see our true soul is seen as a recipe for disaster. When someone is authentic, everyone wonders what game they are up to and whether or not they can be trusted.
We tend to evaluate people by a perceived status, by appearance not only physical but also one that implies success. Robin Williams who died trying to sell his vineyard explained why he owned one as simply being the trendy thing to do. As a recovering alcoholic he compared owning a vineyard to “Gandhi owning a delicatessen”. When we focus on material things and the image we present to others, we leave no room for our faith. Money becomes our belief system instead of our faith and spirituality.
For many in the public eye, to simply live has become a buzzword of its own. “The unencumbered lifestyle” is seen as something for either the highly successful or the unemployed famous. In truth, it might just be the saving grace of us all. So much can be experienced, savored, and learned when one simply lives.
In his book “The Once and Future King”, T.H. White wrote: ““The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
Living is not for the meek-hearted. IT takes energy and strength which is why older people often are misdiagnosed as simply being tired or perhaps even depressed. We expect dementia as a normal process of aging and it is not. Dementia isn’t even an actual disease but rather a collective group of symptoms that indicate a need to search deeper. All too often we do the same with those happy clowns in our lives. We assume there have an inner strength that affords them the luxury of perpetual laughter when really, they are just putting on a mask of smiles to hide their pain and tears.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is remembered for being a renowned science fiction author. He was also the child of a mother who committed suicide. Joining the US Army in the early 1940’s, Vonnegut studied mechanical engineering. His father and uncle were architects and his brother developed the process for seeing clouds to create rain. Vonnegut, seen as the “counterculture’s novelist”, was a prisone of war during World War II. Surviving an attack on the underground meat locker in which he and other prisoners were held, he used his experiences to overcome the survivor’s guilt he experienced in being a military decorated “hero” to write. He departed from his fantasy literary world to discuss the real world. “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Dale Carnegie proposed that happiness was not dependent on what one had, wore, or did but on what one thought. Einstein felt imagination was the key, not known knowledge. Buddha explained his thoughts this way: ““The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, nor to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
The simple truth is that each of us has the power to make today a better today for someone else. It requires us stepping outside of our own mind and living with another – offering a smile, a friendly pat on the back, a patient moment, a comforting hug. None of these cost anything but a moment. Yet, that one moment might just be the saving grace for another. Our good intentions are always there, just like our faith and the world. They do no one any good, however, unless we live them, live our beliefs, simply live. Everyone cries when there is no one around. You have the power to turn the tears of a clown around. We all do.’’
My Psalm 88
I called to you, O Lord.
Where were you?
In the midst of this crowd called mankind,
I walk alone.
My life is a sometimes like a burning building
And sometimes I need to flee from it.
You are my lifeline, O God.
Your love is the balm that heals.
Help me, O Spirit, to remember to pray.
And once I pray, to remember to believe.
Help me, Great One, to live daily;
Not just exist but really live.
Breathe in the spirit of being that is in the air.
See the colors of nature around me.
Dance to the heartbeat of my soul
May I remember to give thanks through my tears and impatience.
May I remember I am blessed in all things, even in pain.
The rainbow follows the storm, O Creator.
Give me the strength to wait.