I do not feel like wearing my clown nose today. I am afraid that nothing will happen. It’s 3:00pm, on a Wednesday in Lincoln Park and I have just finished teaching a storytelling class in a memory care unit. The participants make up two stories based on photographs that I bring in. One is about a man carrying an American flag who is trying to feed the children; the other about a horse jockey whose gender is up for debate.
“It’s a man!” one declares.
“Oh, shut up!” another hisses, “it’s a woman.”
Some choose to sleep, others are unable to talk. It is my ongoing mission to find ways to involve everyone, but today I do not feel successful.
I climb into my car, turn the key, and stare at my plastic red nose. It is wedged in my cup holder between discarded coffee cups and old Kleenex. Three months ago I promised myself I would wear my nose every time I drove. Three months ago I was a bolder, braver version of myself. I don't know what has changed, only that I am not ready to give up on myself or Petunia. I put on my nose, say hello to Petunia in the mirror (she snorts back), and we pull up to a stop sign on Clark. Backpacked students pass by, men in gray suits, everyone on their phones. A man with spiked black hair looks into my car, raises his eyebrows, looks away, and then looks back to confirm that yes, indeed, a clown is driving a car. Two blonde boys walk past, hands in pockets and one mouths, “a clown,” but his friend does not look, presumably he does not want to be duped. A woman with chestnut brown curls scurries by, looks to where the blonde boy was motioning, sees Petunia. For a moment, a cloud lifts. She is no longer making to-do lists in her head, planning what’s for dinner. She laughs. And Petunia laughs with her.
It is a small exchange, but reminds me of a proverb my clown teacher sent me:
A leaf falls into the river
Even if the river carries it away
It changes the nature of the river
On the drive home I notice the little acts around me: a bus driver wipes her change machine with a handkerchief, an old man sitting in the front of the bus hugs his briefcase close and sighs. From my rearview mirror I see a woman in the car behind me examining her chin. The man next to her says something that makes her hit his arm repeatedly, until the hits become kisses and they begin to laugh. On the sidewalk a toddler is kicking a large stick and his mother is calling for him to hurry up. School is out for the day and the high schoolers stop at the Food Mart where they emerge with gummy worms and bottled cokes. Nobody is looking at me, nobody says hello, but I am here, in the middle of it all, loving them, even the Uber driver who is now honking at me, speeding past me to catch the light.
Of what significance is a leaf in a river? Of what significance is a clown in a car? Perhaps it is a quiet one, one in which nothing necessarily happens, but everything is changed.