Send In The Clowns
I have always been an optimistic person. A bit goofy perhaps, with a wry sense of humor. It's how I look at the world. Having boys is often like one big, long practical joke, but I have always chosen to perceive their antics in a humorous light. When friends stress out or worry about something, I question, "Can you do anything to change the outcome? If not, direct your energy somewhere else." So, I am seen as light-hearted; naive even. I like to laugh at the world, not drown in sorrow.
But today I wrestle with sadness, both my own and my family's. My father-in-law passed away this morning after a quick, steep decline in health. Actually, his health had been slowly getting worse over the past few years, but this roller coaster peaked in just the last month or so before plummeting swiftly into the abyss. We sat down with our boys and explained that Grandpa was dying only yesterday, so they are still processing everything. My older son asked, "Why is life so cruel?" But see, here's where you have to look at things from the optimist's perspective. He lived a long and happy life. He celebrated 44 years of marriage just last week. He was able to see his five grandchildren and spend cherished times with each of them. He traveled Europe when he was in his 20's, learning languages and drinking good beers. (Which is why it always confused my husband that his dad chose to drink Michelob later in life.) He retired from a job that he loved, created a wonderful home on property that dipped down to a river, and spent time doing things he enjoyed. He kept learning and taking classes just for the hell of it. The man learned Arabic - just because.
When my own father passed away two years ago it was completely unexpected and a bitter surprise. But I came to regard that as a positive thing. I had seen him 2 days before, and left him with a hug after I told him I loved him. He went so quickly that there was no hospital stay; no debates about his care. I never had to juggle trips to a medical facility in between other obligations, struggle with the financial aspect of care, or feel resentment that a shell of a person only marginally resembled my dad.
Last year my nephew, wise beyond his years, surprised us with his take on life. He looked around at family members who were crying after yet another loss and said, "Don't be sad for what is in Heaven. Be happy for what you have here." He was five at the time, but so astute.
So I choose to see the world in this light. Bad things happen. How do they shape us? How do we deal with challenges and then present this affected persona to those around us? I still want to stick with humor. I've found it suits me well. But if I'm not quite my usual self, you will hopefully understand.
When I was younger I received a music box as a gift - from my parents, I think. It was a copper clown and it played "Send In The Clowns". I had heard Judy Collins sing this over and over again from our state-of-the-art 8 track player and the melody haunted me. I admit that I still don't fully understand the symbolism of the lyrics, but Stephen Sondheim explained it like this (I got this info from the always-correct Wikipedia):
It's a theater reference meaning "if the show isn't going well, let's send in the clowns";
in other words, "let's do the jokes."
After 9/11, after countless hours of depressing, frightening, overwhelming images of terror, shows such as Saturday Night Live struggled to find the balance between humor, reverence for the situation, and hope. When can we go back to our regularly-scheduled program? When will I be able to fall back on the inappropriate jokes that help me get through? Time will tell.
For now, send in the clowns...
Don't bother. They're here.
In Memory Of:
Thomas Nuelle - 1935 - 2013
Lew Thomas - 1933 - 2011
Bobbie Thomas - 1941 - 1993
Kerri Anne Thomas - 2012
Please Share with someone you love