Updated: Dec 4, 2022
"O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim Him, all you peoples! Strong is his love for us; He is faithful forever." The shortest psalm in the Bible (Ps. 116/117) presents us with the greatest message, that God is for us. And it leaves us with one of the most pressing of questions: are we for God? We celebrate Independence Day, though I can't help but wonder what independence means to people who remain shackled, like many of us, to a world that, honestly, cares only for itself. What happens when one lives almost exclusively for that big buzzing, blooming world of glitzy glamor and passing pleasure? Consider the case of Max the Clown.
An Emcee strutted out to the center stage and chanted through a microphone in his hypnotizing, sing-song manner: “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls! Please give your attention to the circus ring, for your favorite comedian and mine, Max the Magnificent, Max the Magnanimous, Max the Circus Clown!” The emcee elongated his last words so they rang loud and clear, sending electrifying thrills and vibrant chills of expectation, like lightning bolts, jolting the hundreds of families and fans gathered that night in the Twin Brothers Traveling Circus tent.
A small man wearing a bright orange and yellow polka dot baggy suit ran from the shadows out into the center ring, dodging horses that pranced a final proud parade to the crackling whip of Nanette, trainer-extraordinaire of all things living and lovely.
Max tripped, stumbled and nearly sprawled in front of a beautiful white horse rearing and neighing to the sound of Nanette’s crackling whips. Gasps filled the tent as adults and children alike thought Max was about to be squished into a much smaller person than he already was, but this was all part of the act. Deftly, the clown tumbled and rolled between hooves only to spring out the other side running and laughing, bouncing and even juggling several brightly colored balls. The crowds wildly clapped for joy as much as relief. With clowns, one never knew what to expect.
Max ran up to a springboard and pretended to dive into a non-existent pool underneath him, squirming and rolling up a cloud of dust that obscured his presence. The dust settled but Max wasn't there! Somehow he had been magically transported (with ropes and pulleys) up above a net where he suddenly appeared dancing on a wire. Familiar tunes filled the tent by a bouncing calliope player pumping out wistful music accompanied by an ensemble of drums, violins, clarinet and tuba, and fans were on their feet cheering the awe-inspiring antics of the little clown.
Finally, Max pulled a bird out of his pocket, let it free, and bounced into the net, onto the circus floor, and bounded out of sight as a closing act of elephants filled the arena with trumpeting and clumping thuds that could be tangibly felt by the audience. It was a truly spectacular night, and no one ever left the tent dissatisfied.
No one, save a small figure lying in a quiet corner of a lonely back room reserved for dressing. Curled up into a ball, Max was sobbing softly to himself, so as not to draw undue attention. He was heart-broken, but too proud to let anyone know. Max felt unutterably forsaken, and perhaps he was. Apart from the public panoply of popular approval, his life seemed to be a charade. Max had no friends apart from the circus, and within it, the circles he traversed were narrowly professional and diplomatically distant. “Granite,” the Muscled Giant, would grunt momentarily in acknowledgment if Max passed by, while he busily worked out with weights. Nanette the horse trainer always smiled beguilingly, but from a distance. And Julie, the music orchestrator, would fondly wave with one hand while keeping the band in practice with a baton in the other. Maybe, because hours were long and private time scarce, no one seemed to want to approach, befriend or hang out with a clown. Max sighed in sad bewilderment.
A familiar patter sounded from beyond the circus tent as rain fell in heavy drops, scattering the dispersing crowd more quickly than usual. Occasionally, there was an opportunity for Max to autograph his picture on the program that came with the price of admission, and when time allowed, he would stand around and make balloon animals for the children pressing in and around him, refusing to leave even while the circus was shutting down, until each little tot proudly possessed a balloon avatar of her own. But for the most part, after each show, Max was left to himself, utterly spent, alone and lonely.
Now, some stories have a dramatic climax and satisfying denouement, but alas, the life of Max was as constant and unchanging as the laws of physics. He continued to work until an accident left him unable to work. Bereft with little savings, unfit for much else in life, Max withdrew to a tiny house with a few mementos of the life he once led. The circus moved on. Some say it later shut down for financial reasons and lack of public interest. In any case, from then on, no one heard from and few remembered Max the Magnificent, Max the Magnanimous, Max the Circus Clown.