I wrote earlier about the passing of my friend Rick two months ago (The Sanctity of Death). His memorial service took place yesterday, and it was really something. Rick was a professional clown and his wife was a mime. They met at the World’s Fair in Knoxville at a circus event and raised a family of performers. There was a lot of music and funny stories at the service as hundreds of friends and family members gathered to honor his memory. It was the best service I’ve ever been to or could imagine.
With the horrific news from Paris fresh in all our minds, and Rick’s death at a far-too-early age weighing on us all, the service managed both to make us ponder Life more deeply and to lift our spirits. The family members who spoke brought us a picture of a man who was not only a funny guy, but also a profound thinker, a philosophy major in college, who went off to make a difference in the world, a warrior doing battle against the downsides of life with optimism and laughter as his chief weapons. Rick believed in laughter, said it was a universal. In his younger days he had the idea of taking his clown act into little villages in Africa and Asia, to bring just a little bit of joy to places where people were struggling to get enough to eat. He called it “the search for the comic denominator.” Funded by the Peace Corps and Project Troubador, he hit the developing world like the Pied Piper. After arriving in a village, Rick would get into costume (thick eyebrows and mustache, cane, oversized shoes–see the link to Project Troubador) and take a walk—or a waddle–in character through the village. Children and adults both would come running, following him to an open spot where the performance would take place. Photos of mesmerized, happy children leave no doubt that he’d found that common denominator he was looking for.
He also found some lifelong friends in a group of musicians who ended up travelling with him through Project Troubador. Like Rick they wanted to bring the world a little bit closer together through what I have called the Sacrament of the Arts—folk music in this case. Yesterday the group re-united, playing during the service and afterwards. This was the perfect ending. With banjo, guitar, fiddles and voices, we all lingered in the church listening to these talented musicians, singing along on the songs we knew, letting the spirit of life flow into us with renewed force in the welcoming confines of the Unitarian-Universalist Church. It was the perfect remedy to stave off the darkness outside.