It wasn’t the greatest show on earth. The ringmaster spoke as if his lips had been mastered by a bottle surnamed Beam. The lions slouched here and there behind the bars like dead men walking. Even the elephants seemed forgetful of their high and holy calling to awe the spectators with dog-like antics. It seemed we’d stumbled into the tent of the Boredom and Blasé circus.
I was a dad of two children, a daughter and a son, both not yet a decade into their young lives. The wounds of my divorce from their mother were still biting and bleeding. In our own ways, we all hurt. The big top, with its promise of wows and smiles, was a welcome hideaway from the languor of a life merely endured. But after a few minutes into the show, I began to second-guess the evening’s entertainment choice. I had hoped for more.
A paint-faced, goofily clad man flopped his way in oversized shoes to the edge of the center ring, directly below our stadium seats, and began clowning around as only clowns can: pulling long strips of rainbow cloth from every pocket; making noises one doesn’t make in polite company; and the like. We all watched with obligatory smiles painted on our own faces. My mind, as it often did, began the reverse pilgrimage to better days.
And then my son, Luke, began to laugh. His eyes were transfixed on the clown. His world reduced to a comic figure. The crowds, bored into silence, had left a vacuum in the tent that my little boy’s voice began to fill. He laughed unaware and uncaring that he alone laughed, deaf to everyone’s else silence.
All around us, spectators began to turn their heads to see the boy whose laugh had redeemed a lost show. A man in my same row, baptized in tattoos, looking so fresh from prison he smelled of incarceration, turned full toward Luke and broke out in a smile whose joy could not be pretended.
As I looked at my son, I felt life leap inside me as only a parent can, whose happiness and sorrows are inextricably intertwined with those who are his greatest treasures. I had gone to the circus to hide away from my problems and to experience a few moments of fake felicity, but I’d discovered, and still discover, in the laugh of my son, a happiness that is truer and more enduring than any suffering this world dare throw my way.