My friend and soul brother Patch Adams came to Phoenix last week for a day between speaking engagements. It’s as close to a vacation as he takes; he says his work is his vacation, it re-energizes him, and he couldn’t find greater satisfaction anywhere than feeding off the love he gets from sharing his with others. I love being with him, and there is almost nothing in the world that energizes me like when we play together.
Patch brings out that piece in me that can walk up to absolute strangers and embrace them. He doesn’t hold back anything; he walks up to people in his idiot clown persona, gets away with going right up into their faces and connects with then. When I’m with him in costume, I can take the risk to reach out and hug, laugh and connect undefensively. My grandkids think that Patch is the only person in the world who is weirder than their Papa.
I picked him up at the airport early in the morning, and we spent a couple hours alone before it was time to clown. This year my wife, daughters and grandkids wanted to go with us. Everybody got their own costumes together and off we went to Phoenix Children’s Hospital to play with kids and staff on trauma and cancer units. There is no place, no matter how heart-wrenching, from war zones to disaster areas, where patients, victims, and volunteers can’t find something to laugh about. Indeed, we need to, it’s a survival mechanism.
Then we went to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum to hang out with the evacuees from the flood disaster in New Orleans. There we were greeted by a phalanx of National Guardsmen, state highway patrolmen, and corrections officers. At first, the uniformed personnel weren’t sure what to make of Patch, as he tried to pass through the metal detectors butt first. Trying to explain to his idiot clown character how to do it, they too began to laugh.
We were assigned to a large tattooed, hulking guide who tried to shepherd us to the kids’ play area. Patch told him he’d like to see the people who were the sickest or most disturbed, and he’d like to talk to the staff and volunteers. Our guide walked us past the entrance to the main floor where the cots were arranged in rows by the hundreds and people were sleeping and recovering. Patch, who always travels at his own speed, stopped and got into a comedic rap with some of the floor sweepers. Unbeknownst to him, they were convicts, detailed here, and hence the presence and scrutiny of corrections officers. The prisoners volunteered for the duty, so did the officers; everybody at the Coliseum served voluntarily, including nurses, mental health specialists, community and church groups, and a biker couple who rode down from Northern Arizona “to be with people in a good way.”
When our guide saw what was happening, the restrictions began to lift, and when the buzz spread that Patch Adams was in the house and people wanted to see him, everyplace opened up to us. The grandkids went off by themselves and interacted with people, hugged them, and listened to their stories. Sitting on cots, they heard what it was like to survive on the streets of the flooded city. I joined them as they listened to a man in his thirties tell them he left the New Orleans Convention Center when he saw the chaos and violence there. The people trampling each other, stealing and screaming so disgusted him that he left to survive on the streets. Finding food was no problem; it was scattered everywhere, dropped from the overstuffed arms of looters. His biggest problem was who might attack him at night when he slept in the park. He described a psychotic man who found him under a bush and threatened to kill him. My grandsons were entranced and wide-eyed…this wasn’t a make-believe story around the campfire.
And then came Patch, holding onto his pet fish, which he blew into like a clarinet and danced through the aisles singing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” followed by a parade of people dancing. It’s hard not to feel energized by the gift of Patch’s sincerity— he is a channel through which love is expressed.
The experience touched my grandkids in a profound way. From their suburban lifestyle, they saw a reflection of a world perhaps acknowledged, but never directly. Patch told us he didn’t often get three generations of a family clowning together and wanted us all to climb into his shorts. He proceeded to take out the biggest underpants in the world and we all climbed in. Patch invited us to come as a multi-generational family on an international clown trip to some disaster area in the world. He told my grandkids that there is lots of room to spread love in the world and they want to do it.
P. S. Interested in clown trips contact Patch at www.patchadams.org