I never joined the circus. Actually, I’ve never even been much of a fan. Too many rings to watch at once. Too many nail biting high wire acts. Too many animals tethered and tamed instead of wild and free. And the clowns, yikes, the clowns. Maybe I was just a weird kid, but the circus was never a big ‘must see’.
Still, I must say I felt a teeny bit sad when the 146 year old Barnum and Bailey Circus recently pulled up stakes for good. But, hey, even the biggest show on earth would have a hard time competing with the red, white and blue Big Top of — politics.
If, like me, watching more than one thing at a time makes you dizzy, refer to your program and buckle up. There’s enough action under the Big Top these days to make your head spin. Precarious high wire acts. Slights of hand. Tricks that can keep you stranded in the air with no safety net. From acrobats to animal trainers, no one seems to like each other very much but every one is worth watching.
High flying tricks emerge energetically from every spotlit ring. Some are intriguing; others could turn catastrophic in a heartbeat. All the balls are in the air and where they land no one knows – yet. We watch every act with interest or fear, approval or upset. Performers go through flaming hoops or emerge from clown cars. And we’re left to wonder what (or who) is going to bounce off the trampoline. Welcome to life under the Big Top.
Balancing a budget is a hire wire performance of mammoth proportions; healthcare a critical balancing act that threatens to dump everyone out of the trampoline. Big cats prowl the ring while a brashly boorish ringmaster holds court in center ring, offering distracting braggadocio. Zanies try to ‘keep ‘em laughing’ but it gets increasingly more difficult. Bizarre sides shows abound, both inside and out of the giant tent. The noise is deafening. Brexit, Russian hacking, global warming. We’re at the edge of our seats, praying someone sticks the landing, all the while wondering if we should clap – or run for cover.
Well, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Come one; come all. Nothing is guaranteed under the Big Top today. Was it ever? Cheap seats or way up front, juggling bills or money to burn (do unicorns really exist?) there should always be a place for everyone in the circus of life. And free admission to all who dream of more.
These days the Big Top is pretty much like an offbeat game of Wii. We can see it all clearly, can push all the right buttons, but the action doesn’t change, at least from our efforts. Sure, we have the remote and know how the game should go but our colorful Fischer Price controller doesn’t connect to anything at all.
Lions, tigers and bears, oh my.
Whether the tent is red or blue, real life happens outside either ticket booth. It happens to real people with real problems and real feelings. We perform our own feats of strength. We balance precariously on high wires and grieve devastating losses. We juggle careers and family life. We go through all sorts of hoops just to keep all the balls in the air. Even without realizing it, we sometimes act with nerves of steel and more kindness and bravery than any trapeze act. Every day, we perform ‘fantastic feats’ just by living in the best, most honest way we can. Maybe to the circus, our lives are just ‘peanuts’ but I have to believe we’re the ones who hold the real magic. As Samuel Richardson said, “Love can draw even an elephant through a keyhole”.
Despite the pervasive sense of separateness sparked by this particular election year, what’s real and true will always happen outside the tent. Birth. Marriage. Death. These are the real adventures and perils, and what’s central to all humankind. It’s where the real risks, excitement, and danger lives. Sometimes, it’s tragic; sometimes fantastical. But, if you think about it, from the day you’re born you’re thrown up on the trapeze and figure out the rest as you go along. Hang on. There’s a lot to learn and we are always learning in this circus called life.
Regardless of costume changes, thrills and spills or death defying feats, politics is a circus with few laughs and big stakes. It’s a tough show and getting tougher yet not half as real as what everyone outside it lives every day. So, get your popcorn (I prefer mine caramel) and on with the show. Unlike the saying, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’, it’s ALL ours, even the monkeys. Pay attention; don’t avert your eyes. We may be in the cheap seats, but we have a big voice. Whether our caps are red or blue, the circus works for us, not the other way around. And if we stop buying the tickets, animals, clowns and ringmaster all get their walking papers. Just like Barnum and Bailey, they would need to pack up and get outta dodge.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering . . .
“Where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns;
Quick send in the clowns
. . . . Don’t bother — they’re here.”