Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Clown," by Gordon McKeeman

[Note: today I learned of the death of Gordon McKeeman, a kindly, gentle soul and retired Unitarian-Universalist minister who was active in Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church here in Charlottesville for quite a number of years. Below is the text of one of my favorite of Gordon's essays, "Clown," from his wonderful little book Out of the Ordinary - Meditations by Gordon B. McKeeman (Skinner House Books, 2000). I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. Thank you Gordon for teaching us to appreciate the little clown in each of us. R.I.P.]


My brother-in-law, in his retirement years, has become a clown. He joined a fraternal order's "clown group" and is learning the art of being a clown. The art seems to consist of exaggeration. Ordinary human traits are magnified or minimized to call attention to them. This allows us to laugh at ourselves in the guise of someone else. What a splendid contribution to human sanity: holding up the magnifying mirror to our humanness.

Most of us don't enjoy being laughed at. We take umbrage at it (even though umbrage upsets our stomachs). We take ourselves seriously, and we want others to take us (and themselves) seriously, too. It's hard, especially when thinking about a difficult problem or a crisis, to think of life as a joke. After a while we even begin to take seriously things that we believe. We are prepared to fight (even to the death, sometimes) to defend our notions. What a ministry it is, to magnify one's own notions to the point that their absurdity allows us the grace of saying, "It's possible I could be mistaken."

Our little planet orbits a rather small star, with (at last count) eight other planets, some even smaller, some much larger. Our modest solar system is one of thousands, perhaps millions, in our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy. Our solar system is about 130,000 light years from the center of the galaxy. Light travels about 186,000 miles per second. A light year is the distance light travels in a year. Our galaxy, in turn, is one of a billion or two galaxies in the universe. These galaxies appear to be receding from each other at approximately the speed of light. This does throw a rather clownlike light on some of the claims made by religions for truth. We know very little, and we are not very certain of what we think we know for sure.

Yet in the face of the awesome dimensions of the universe, we keep trying to be kind to one another, modest about our attainments, and humble before life's magnificent intricacy, on which we are so completely dependent.

Maybe there is a little clown in each of us, helping us to remember how laughable some of our notions are, how small the island of knowledge, how long the shoreline of wonder, how brief our days, how vast our dwelling place. A chuckle now and then would probably not be amiss, especially when we see a clown, or a star.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think there is a clown in everyone. It's important not to take things too seriously. I enjoyed the post!