Long before I went to work for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care, I visited “in clown” at what I would call a terminally ill hospital. There was a lot of longterm care and Hospice. Most of the patients were near death, and as you can imagine, it was a very difficult place to be.
I was to entertain in the day room. I really didn’t know what kind of material was going to work in this situation. Some of the patients were intubated and attached medical equipment. Everyone spoke quietly and all you could hear in the room were clicking noises and steady monotonous beeping sounds from heart monitors, plus the heavy breathing sounds like Darth Vader was in the room. Many were paralyzed and could only communicate with the movement of their eyes and eyelids.
So I pulled out some magic tricks. Much to my mortification, one lady’s favorite response to each stunt was to call out, “Couldn’t you just DIE?”
“My God! Please, lady, don’t say that!” I thought. Most of the patients in the day room were quiet and serene. They had all accepted their misfortune, made peace with their fate and were ready . . .They didn’t laugh at my performance. They just took it in.
I have often wondered, when witnessing situations like this, why God allows it to go on.
Now I think I know why. I have received more strength from a person who was dying than the strongest men in the world get by pumping iron. This strength has grown into hope, and a belief that I might someday be able to comprehend the world a little better. In the meantime, it has taught me to be understanding and accepting of the not-so-pleasant things life throws my way. It revealed a heartstring I never knew I had.
Back to the story:
After I finished performing for the patients in the day room, the staff asked if I could visit some of those who had been too ill to leave their rooms. So I was taken to the second floor, where the patients all had respiratory problems. At the nurse’s station, they told me, “You must go see May. She used to be in the circus.”
As I walked into May’s room. I saw old circus posters everywhere. Gorgeous, antique posters. And there was tiny, fragile and feisty May, enveloped in one of those big oversized chairs you see in hospitals and nursing homes. She had oxygen tubes in her nose, but when she saw me in my clown gear, she brightened and said, “I’ll get my things!”
The nurse tried to calm her down.
“No, No, May . . It’s O.K. They just came to visit you.”
May was excited and she kept exclaiming, “I knew you would come for me! I knew it!” I think she thought we were there to spring her out of that place.
I didn’t know which circus May traveled with, but I did find out what her act was—she was an equestrian high diver. Yes, you read that correctly. She would dive off a high platform, on a horse, into a pool of water.
I can still see the twinkle in her eye as she looked at me.
“That’s a lost art,” I said. “I don’t know anyone who can dive horses.”
Then she gave my hand a squeeze, looked at me right in the eye and confided, “I think I can still do it. But I believe the horse is dead.”
Later, while looking through a book of old circus posters, I spotted one from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The picture was of a young girl standing next to a white horse. It was captioned “May Worth – The Greatest Bareback Rider Of All Time!”
The Greatest Show on Earth.
I never did know the patient’s last name.
The greatest Dream on Earth.
God bless you, May.