“My idea was pretty simple at the beginning,” said Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney). “I started to volunteer in wards for the terminally ill children and burn victims, just go in there, dressed as a clown, and cheer them up a little bit—spread around some laughs and giggles. But things do get very tough in there—very tough. You see some pretty terrible things in these wards. Children dying or mutilated is nothing you ever get used to looking at.
“One day, as I was making the rounds, I came across a room that had the shades drawn. I peeked in, and it was a room with badly burned children in it. They had them in chrome crib beds with walls on the sides so they couldn’t crawl out or fall out when it got too terrible in there. There was one little black kid who was horribly burned. He looked like burnt toast. Pieces of his face weren’t there. Pieces of his ears were missing. Where was his mouth? You could hardly tell who he was. There was no way of pinning a person to the face, what there was of it. It was just terrible, mind-boggling. My jaw dropped and I gasped. I became completely unglued.
“I remember flashing black to the anti-war movement. There was a picture of a napalmed kid I used to carry around on a poster to try to wake people up to that—everybody, including the antiwar people. Suddenly here was that kid right in front of me, unbelievably painful to behold.
“My mind went off in all sorts of directions. What’s it going to be like if he lives? Will he ever play with other kids, or just be this monster that kids goof on? And I was overwhelmed by my situation, too. Here’s this guy in a clown suit, come in to cheer kids up but falling to pieces right in front of them —and probably making the kid feel even worse, like, “I even make clowns cry.”
“So there we were, burnt toast kid and unglued clown. What a sight. I was fighting just to stay there, trying to get beyond my horror. All of a sudden this other kid came whizzing by—I think he was skating with his IV pole — and he stopped, looked at the other kid, and came out with “Hey, you ugly!”
Just like that.
And the burnt kid made a gurgling noise, a kind of laugh. His face moved around. And I just went for his eyes: we locked together right there, and everything else dissolved. It was like going through a tunnel right to his heart. All the burned flesh disappeared.
“Being able to look “you ugly” in the eye has done a lot for me. Once I do that, I can go on to see what might be done that can ease the pain. I can see what I can work with that’s right in front of me —obvious things.
“Like when we were setting up the show Godzilla in the kid’s leukemia ward. I was making kids up as clown. One kid was totally bald, and when I finished doing his face, another kid said, “Go on and do the rest of his head.”
The kid loved the idea. And after that his sister said, “Hey, we could watch the movie on Billy’s head.” We did, and he loved it. It was quite a moment. especially when the doctors arrived. “Come on in. We’re watching Godzilla on Billy’s head.”
“I don’t know: burned skin or bald heads on little kids, kids hurting so bad and so afraid and probably dying—what do you do? Well, you face it, I guess. Face it and stay open and then see what you can do. “I got the idea of carrying popcorn. When a kid is crying. I dab at the tears with popcorn and pop it into my mouth, or into his or hers, and we just sit around together and eat the tears.
“The mind is a living organism that chaperons us everywhere, haloing our bodies as the biosphere does the earth. It informs us of everything we think, feel, and say. Consciousness is as central to life as the ecosystem is to the earth. We can’t live without it, nor can it be escaped. It is home. Neglect consciousness — denigrate it, violate it — and like the earth, the individual suffers, and often causes suffering, too. On the other hand, nurture consciousness — understand its nature, inhabit it wisely — and we flourish, and elevate society too.”
~ Alan Clements