We spent an afternoon at the theatre watching A Little Night Music. My husband and I joined our friends as we do a couple of times each summer. I chose the play this time, in part because Send in the Clowns is a song I loved long before I knew what it was about. It’s a melancholy, sad tune about a couple in a relationship they had no right to be in. Finally, they realize how foolish they’ve been.
“Where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don’t bother, they’re here.”
Many of us have been foolish–perhaps not in that way–but we’ve been foolish, haven’t we? Some of us would give anything to move the focus from ourselves while we struggle our way to wisdom. Many of us laugh at the misfortunes of others only because they are diverting the attention from our personal chaos. That is, after all, what the clowns were for. If things went badly on the stage, send in the clowns.
An afternoon spent with friends at the theatre is always a delight, no question. And art speaks to us in the most unexpected times. On this occasion, one line in the play punched me so hard I risked the ire of dedicated theatre-goers, reached for my phone and tried to text myself a note–under my sweater, so the light wouldn’t bother anyone–just so I could remember the essence enough to look up the quote later.
An interlude, right in the midst of Send in the Clowns, has one character saying to the other that one “should never flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved.”
I sat between my husband and my friend, and though we had gone because I wanted to hear the song for a project I’m working on, it was those words that have stayed with me since. My friend asked me about it, and I said, “there’s something about them. I’m still working it out.”
We’d seen the play in July, just before starting a cross-country road trip. Kilometre after kilometre passed by, and that steady rhythm encouraged the scene to replay on loop: “One should never flirt with rescue, when one has no intention of being saved”.
Years ago, it was stated that my current husband and I rescued each other. The words may have been meant as a compliment, but I never heard it that way. I still don’t.
What I heard was that I couldn’t resolve a mess I’d gotten myself into.
I heard that I wasn’t capable at making a marriage work–in fact, I’d already shown that. Worse, the suggestion that I’d needed rescuing hinted at an inability to survive on my own, even though it was the only option I’d felt I had left.
And what’s a girl to do then?
That’s not all. Because we had apparently rescued each other, it seemed I’d chosen badly (for the second time) a man who couldn’t face the world any better. The passivity would be damaging, and I doubt our marriage would have survived the process of relationship-building.
In fact, I know it wouldn’t have.
As Canadian Shield gave way to prairie roads and then to Canadian Rockies, I finally figured out the difference.
Flirting with rescue is choosing passivity and helplessness. It’s refusing to make course corrections along the way, because it’s hard. It’s expecting someone else to pick up my pieces, to fix my mistakes. Someone else can be blamed, and someone else can clean up.
My choices therefore are inconsequential. Except, they aren’t.
Intending to be saved means taking steps towards a healthy resolution. It isn’t refusing help when I truly need it, but it isn’t assuming that someone else will solve my issues either. It means surrounding myself with people who want me to be my best, most authentic, healthy self–but at the same time, it recognizes that I might have some hard work ahead of me.
I’ve loved clowns, but they have their jobs to do, and I’ve got mine. There’s no point in confusing the two–and there’s no point in ignoring my reality. The clowns have gone home. When no one is watching, when I’m alone, I choose what to do with my chaos, who to turn to, and how to help myself.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Psalm 51:10 The Message