Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CLOWNS & the Evil We Never Name

I was neutral on the subject of clowns as a child.

But when my first son was about six months old, a balloon-wielding clown approached him in his stroller at the Mall. He screamed and cried. I'm not sure whether this was the genesis of his fear of clowns, but even now, 27 years later, he does not like clowns.

His father's parents were divorced before we married, and both were nasty alcoholics. He was estranged from his mother. The first time I met her, we had gone together to pick up his younger brother who lived with her. As she staggered up from the dinner table, a cigarette in her mouth and a cocktail glass in her hand, the chair she leaned on broke a rung and she slurred some curse words about how cheap his father was. Then she abruptly decided the younger boy could not go with us, and ordered us out. I was a sixteen year old girl, and although my parents drank, I had only once witnessed such frightening behavior, when as a young child, I saw my maternal aunt in very much the same condition and she proceeded to tell me how horrible my stepmother was. I can still experience the feeling I had in my stomach at those times, the feeling that I would now describe as aversion in the presence of evil.

Years went by after that incident before I saw her again. She didn't come to our marriage. She stalked us, though. She had a red sportscar, and she would drive slowly past our house at odd hours of the day, hoping, I guess, to catch a glimpse of her son. At some point there was a bit of a reconciliation, and when our son was born, she gave us a gift: a large vivid oil painting of a very scary clown. I put it in Casey's room, but he rarely slept in there. We ended up letting our boys sleep in with us most of the time as infants. Still, he told me later that he was terrified of that clown picture.

I am convinced that each human has within him the potential for good and the potential for evil. There are so many factors determining the direction our lives will ultimately go. I believe in redemption, I believe in forgiveness, and I also believe that there are people in this world who have decided to choose the evil impulse so often that there is no turning back... almost as if one were on a path and came to many crossroads or forks in the road, always choosing the darker one, until finally there was no hope of ever finding one's way back. When I encounter a person and feel in my gut that same sensation of fear, revulsion, and wariness, I have learned to trust my instincts. Invariably, it's best for me to steer wide of him/her. I am still learning.

Because my boy had such an aversion to clowns, I will never see them quite the same way. I don't really know why we think they are for kids. Clowns are symbolic of the trickster, the masquerader, the false elation of addiction and the epitome of artifice. Most people are good or have not lost the potential to do good and be good. But some people/politicians/corporate entities are just too far gone. Like the song  "Bring In the Clowns" says, "...don't bother, they're here."

What do you think about clowns?