Monday, September 19, 2011
Six o’clock of the sixteenth of September saw me in the cafeteria of a hospital in B------------- with my father, my brother, and my sister. It had been a hard night, especially for my mother, but a new baby is always worth it. We sat there; my brother, father, sister, and I and finished what was for us an early breakfast. There were few in the cafeteria that day, only our trio, a couple of hospital visitors, and a group of older hospital maintenance men on breakfast break.
We were waiting for my three-year-old sister to finish her eggs when one of the maintenance men, an old man whom I would put in his late sixties, approached us. Pale blue eyes sparkling, he asked,
“Are you going to be here for a few more minutes?”
“I think so,” my father replied, nodding at my sister, “We are waiting for the little one to finish.”
“I’ll be right back,” the man said, “I’m going get my balloons. They are downstairs in the pick-up. I’ll just be five minutes.”
As I looked at him in surprise, he walked out of the cafeteria with an energy that did not suit a man of his years. “I’ll just be five minutes! You wait here!” was his parting phrase.
In less that the predicted time, he was back, carrying a little dark blue bag. Placing it on a nearby table and pulling up a chair for himself, he said proudly, “I used to be a clown. Yup, I’m a professional clown.”
My little sister’s brown eyes sparkled as she watched the man pull out of his little bag a bunch of brightly-colored balloons just waiting to be inflated. A small air pump followed and in almost no time the old man was pumping air into a long pink balloon. I watched as he made for my sister a black wiener dog and a pink poodle, and then taught my brother to twist the fragile latex into a bright red parrot.
His eyes sparkled the whole time he turned those uninteresting, ordinary balloons into fanciful creatures and funny flowers. He talked the entire time, making all kinds of jokes. He would talk to anyone who passed by and ask them a myriad of questions from, “Are you listening to this? You’ll be quizzed on it later!” to “Do you have a sharp knife? My finger is caught in this balloon and I need to cut it off.” He treated adults and children alike. Every time he said something, he would look around to see who was listening to him.
The more I watched him the more I came to like him. In fact, everyone liked him. They would all smile at his open, frank manner and kind expression. And he would smile right back with a giant grin, not unlike a child himself. With all his balloon-twisting talents and he tried to make everyone happy.
As he conversed with us I learned that he usually volunteered at the hospital on Mondays and Fridays but that he was there on that particular Tuesday because his wife had been admitted that night. I don’t even remember his name, and I don’t think he ever knew mine.
Now, I can only remember what he did for us and everyone else he met. In the first place, he noticed us and decided to speak to us, which is something not many people in the world today do when they meet strangers. I have observed that it has become the norm to lower one’s head and pass by one another without even making eye contact, avoiding others whenever and wherever possible.
This man didn’t decide against getting the balloons out of his truck because it was too long a walk, even though his being old would have been a good excuse not to. He didn’t choose not to speak with us, even though it was his breakfast break and he could have gone to see his wife or do other things. As he was leaving he offered to give us his balloons, how-to books, and pumps.
“I’m going blind,” he said, “And I’m getting allergic to latex. I don’t need them anymore.”
He didn’t even use the excellent excuse of being allergic to latex to avoid making balloon figures for us! And he did not so much as ask for payment for the balloons. His one and only concern was our joy. The smile of others was his delight. Like a true clown, he merely wanted to hear us laugh, see children smile before he could see no more.
I often wonder now why kids think that they can outgrow clowns. I think that the world would be a better place if we stopped more often to say, “You know what? I want to make that person happy.” Not because we think they will repay us or thank us or because we have nothing better to do. But simply because we want to see our brothers and sisters smile. Because we see Christ in them. That’s what clowns do. If only more of us were clowns!
Photograph 1 by Gage Seaux, Design by Sydney-Angelle Duplechin. All Rights Reserved. Photograph 2 by Gage Seaux, All Rights Reserved