I’ve just returned from Guatemala and the first ever Patch Adams/Gesundheit! clown trip comprised exclusively of disabled war veterans. 10 Veterans (six men and four women ranging from their late 20s to late 60s) all suffering from PTSD sustained in wars from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Gulf wars, agreed to become clowns for a week to see it’s potential impact on their illness.
Patch brought along 10 Gesundheit! Clowns as staff, and they had prepped the Vets about what they’d be doing, and creating a clown costume, but we only met face-to-face when we arrived in Guatemala City. The first night we had an introductory circle, and the folowing morning an introductory clown workshop. In spite of their uncertainties and trepidation, the Vets opened themselves to the experience.
Dressed up, they visited locked institutions, hospitals, orphanages, schools, and marketplaces; saw severely disabled people (both young and old), and sang, performed puppetry, played games, pushed wheelchairs, and departed from their ordinary realities to be fully in the moment.
Twice a day we piled into our bus to go to each venue, and had time to talk to each other. From day to day you could see their growing ease at making immediate, openhearted connections, and by the end of the week every participant had opened themselves to places within that for a long time they had closed their hearts to. For me it was an awakening experience as well; I have never spent that much time with war veterans and it allowed me to see them and their suffering in a new light.
The experience proved what we all know to be true, that love, caring, compassion is good for us at the cellular level, explainable by biochemical and neural mechanisms that activate the brains pleasure centers. Whatever its biological underpinnings, the fact is that doing this work eases suffering, our own as well.
We’ll see what the long-term impact of this experience will be on these Vets, but the trip reminded me that the greatest act of revolution in contemporary life is to be able to come to every day with joy. Let your clown out Relatives, because it will make you feel good and lighten your load.
PS: if you want to see how clowns can create a healing community support the clown town healing fast that will take place in Phoenix in February 2016 check it out on the website clowntownhealingfest.com and be sure to take a “red-nose selfie” which you can find on the bottom of the homepage.