A woman showed me an image on her cell phone. It was an image of an old photo. By old photo, I mean an image many of us remember as a film picture before the days of digital cell phones. As she showed me the photo, she said, “Does this look familiar ?“ I looked at the picture and saw a vision of myself from fifteen years ago. I am young; this is me before I had my child. I am standing in the hospital by a patient’s bed. I am holding an accordion, and I am wearing clown makeup.
I am a professional hospital clown.
The woman who showed me this photo was the parent of a former patient I had clowned for years ago. The patient in the picture was a smiling three-year-old boy. Next to the mother holding her cell phone stood the former patient, now a high school senior several inches taller than me.
The former patient came back to the hospital to do a High School service project. While he was at the hospital, his mother found the clowns. She and I looked at this photo from fifteen years ago. As we did this Mom began to relive the time her boy was in the hospital. She told me the story of how her three-year-old son started to show the first signs of being sick. As she was telling the story, she was reliving each incident of her child’s pain, of how he acted when he wasn’t feeling well, of her worry for his health and his future. She had been on an emotional journey to fix her child’s illness. Going to different hospitals, getting various opinions from doctors.
But don’t worry. This story has a good ending. Eventually, he received the medical care he needed, and they meet the clowns. She mentioned how happy she was to see clowns in the hospital. And how glad she was to see her son smile and laugh. I asked her if she remembered what we did for them that day? Did we play music, did we juggle, bump into the wall and fall? She paused for a second, then said, “You brought smiles.“
"She was so happy to see clowns at the hospital"
This Mom is, of course, one woman. One parent who wanted their child to smile and laugh. I see many versions of a parent like this every day I work in the hospital. Moms and Dads who want to hear their child laugh. At times parents can be the best ally in our clown work. It’s often the Mom who sings along to the music we play, or dad who takes the blame for the unexpected clown fart. In the midst of whatever condition these patients are in, parents want their children to be happy and healthy.
So, how am I different from the version of me from fifteen years ago? I am still a hospital clown wearing makeup, although my make up has changed over the years. I rarely play the accordion now; years ago, I started playing the ukulele. Most importantly, unlike the version of me in the photo, I am now a parent. I have a growing teenage girl who soon, just like the patient in the picture, will grow to be taller than me. Now I understand what it is like to be a parent. I also know the joy of hearing my child laugh. Just like the parents in the hospital, I want my child to be happy and healthy. My wife and I have been blessed to have a healthy child. I am grateful for that. More importantly, I am thankful for the lessons that I have learned from the parents in the hospital. They have helped me to be a better clown and a better parent.