Yes, I have managed yet another year to resist the urge to place a 6-ft. tall, extra-goofy inflatable turkey in a pilgrim hat on our front lawn. Two neighbors have them. I confess my envy in order to loose its power over me. Not really…I just can’t make this holiday silly. I do admit I patiently wait for the “Underdog” balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
It is time, though, to break out the spreadsheets and calculators, tabulate all the blessings, and funnel all the appropriate gratitude into two-sentence personal summaries during our around-the-banquet-table thankfulness-a-palooza. Oh, I’m not saying that’s bad; please don’t misunderstand. I am the receiver of an incredibly large, incredibly undeserved proverbial boatload of blessings. I am most grateful to a God who blesses me in spite of me. I just want to take a different direction for these words I am writing around Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving also means it is November. Another profound observation, I know. Turns out my favorite holiday is in my favorite month, with many family birthdays including my own. I might even get some delicious homemade Milky Way cake, a recipe from my mother. I love this cake made with melted Milky Way candy bars. But I think just a few more molten Milky Ways for the mix might be a good Year 56 commencement. Just my humble opinion. Or something.
Even though it’s my favorite month, I’ve been diagnosed in years past with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I don’t know about all that, but I saw my longtime counselor and dear friend Charlie to check in just last week. Charlie has been a tremendous source of encouragement to me for nearly 20 years now. I am very, very thankful for him. Last Wednesday, we were doing what we normally do, discussing me and my wacky life.
We talked about my mood, my blog, the Green Hornet, my football-champion grandsons, my upcoming car purchase, and my Surf Bathroom project with the hermit crabs and the toilet lid that plays “Surfin’ USA.” Heady stuff. He commented on my “fully engaged” creativity and he called me a “clown, but in a good way.” I agreed. He then asked me if I had any formal training as a clown. When I stopped laughing, I answered, “Nope. I’m purely self-taught.”
A clown, yes. I am indeed. Laughing and making others laugh…consistencies in my life as far back as I can remember. Sometimes with welcome humor, sometimes with humor decidedly inappropriate, and other times with humor as a mask for deep internal pain. Jokes, puns, stunts, juggling, magic, pranks, and general silliness are all found on my clown resume.
Some clowns are the freestyle, entrepreneurial type, showing up at birthdays, picnics, rutabaga curling festivals, and other events. Other clowns work for a circus. I think I’ve been both kinds. No, not in the real circus (only my daughter Valerie has actually done that…I’ll ask her if she will write about it) but a life circus sure enough.
Having almost reached my 56th birthday, I am looking back at the past year. This clown has shed many tears in 2012. Seems like somehow we all know clowns do that…shed tears. I think we may even expect clowns to be sad in some kind of crazy juxtaposed oxymoron of life. I don’t know. I do know my own clown tears have been salty liquid pain and sopping wet grief.
It has been one hellaciously hardscrabble year. And I’m not talking about being allergic to my new Chihuahua Semper-Fido (his real name) and subsequently having to give him up or not being able to straddle Sleepy the ex-rodeo horse because of hip arthritis (mine, not his).
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? Again? Another bad year?” Yes, again. Yes, another one. I faced my relentless and savage internal demons…evil clowns themselves…in the same old skirmish after skirmish. At least this time I didn’t completely blame my father. No, I am darn capable of jumping in the doo-doo all on my own. Anger. Weakness. Fear. Shame. False guilt. Control. Real guilt. All me.
There were struggles in every area where there can be struggles. I caused pain to those who love me and I felt pain. I failed and I succeeded and I failed again. I put on my make-up and red nose. I tried to laugh. Tears leaked. I laughed. More leaking.
I found myself trying to rebuild my life Big Top: my personal strength, my marriage, my family, and my career. I dragged out that yellowing circus program I always used as a blueprint before. Yep, the one featuring me in the center ring. I headed over to set up. This time, the tent canvas was ripped beyond repair. And a particularly bad-tempered imaginary elephant was doing the pachyderm polka on my shattered poles and stakes. My pain turned to grief as I inventoried my losses, real and not so real. I knew this particular show cannot and must not go on.
Here is the part where I should start expressing all I have learned. Not this time. I claim to have learned nothing. Nothing. There is no fairy tale happy ending, no Camelot, no naïve “all is well” I have so often offered. There is just a clown with tears. I will never have a perfect life. I will always walk with a non-physical limp caused by my past. I will always have to be aware of the same demons. I will never be a perfect husband or have a perfect marriage. I will never be a perfect father or grandfather. I’m not even a fair brother or friend. My work situation likely will stay just as it is…an imperfect fit. All I have is a resolve to never give up.
I’d like to say all the bad is now finally in the past. I’d like to emblazon “I have won the long-fought battle with my weaknesses” on an I-294 billboard and a six-color non-greening tattoo that covers my whole back. I can’t say those things. I don’t know what will happen. For all I know, it could all blow apart again in the next few minutes. I understand that. That’s just my life circus. There is no net.
And it’s my birthday. Hmmm. My life at age 56 is very different than I imagined, even hoped it would be. I sort of pictured I would have it “made in the shade on a downhill grade;” that I would be “ridin’ a gravy train on biscuit wheels;” that I would be “happier than a possum in the corncrib with the dog tied up…” Okay, I’ll stop. You get the idea.
Amelia has begun embracing her dream of going to college and helping troubled women. I owe her so much more than my wholehearted support and she now has it. I hate that I struggled with that. My children are scattered from Kansas City to northwest Indiana to Knoxville to Canada. I live near none of my four kids and eight grandkids. I miss them all. After 20 years there and moving to be close to the place, my job is tenuous just seven years from retirement. I actually do now have enemies there…more consequences of this year (it feels good to know I have real enemies…God knows I’ve imagined enough of them in my life).
My recent grieving had to do with adjusting to all this. I didn’t want to change. I wanted things my way. But now it’s okay. The grief has lessened. I realized most of the things I was grieving I never lost anyway. And I decided that no matter what else happens around me, I can love. I can love God, myself, my family, and others. No one can stop me from loving. And I will try to get out of my own way and love with reckless abandon. It’s a powerful hanky for mopping up clown tears.
So this old birthday clown is wiping his face and looking around for his juggling clubs, yo-yo, and magic flower vase. Maybe next year I’ll learn plate-spinning. Yes, I am thankful today. So thankful to be able to love for a while longer.
And these days I find it easier to love myself. I’m more comfortable with the jester God made me. That’s why Charlie and I were talking. That’s why the toilet lid plays “Surfin’ USA.”
And you know, a clown doesn’t belong in the center ring anyway.
Note: “Pathos” photo above is by artist Deborah Wolfe and is used with her permission. Thanks, Deborah! For more information, go to her website: studioonashoestring.com