As a child, I was painfully shy. I walked with my head down, barely spoke above a whisper and hated everything about myself. My mother’s idea of getting me to “open up” was to force me to walk up to perfect strangers and ask them for the time. Decades later, I look back at this and I still don’t understand her strategy. Did she think a 10-year-old would ask someone for the time and then strike up a witty conversation? Or was she just hoping that someone would decide to kidnap me so she didn’t have to worry about this mousy child anymore? Who can resist a felony when it shuffles right up to them at the mall? Sadly, I was so terrified of attracting any attention to myself, that I probably would have thought twice about screaming if I actually was snatched.
Obviously, this brilliant chronological plan wasn’t doing the trick, so my mother looked around for another avenue of humiliation. And then she struck pay dirt: Christian Clown Camp. Could there be a better place to send an 11 year old girl that is scared of her own shadow, hates nature and has never shown an interest in make-up? Apparently not. She signed me up without my knowledge, neglecting to tell me about this adventure until she started PACKING MY SUITCASE.
Early one morning, I was unceremoniously dumped at a camp site several hours from my house, told to “have fun” and then watched as my family car sped away down the dirt road. I was abandoned for a week with total strangers, in the woods, and on top of that, I was supposed to learn how to apply a million layers of face paint in order to go out and tell the world about Jesus. How many drugs were taken to come up with this idea?
Admittedly, I do not have a lot of memories of this week of abject horror. Teenage Clowns in the Woods sounds more like a B rated slasher flick than a wonderful bonding experience, so I must have blocked most of the details from my brain. I remember sitting in a the big cabin, along a long table with mirrors in front of each of us as a camp counselor named Tal (his first name and his initials were the same TAL — I have no idea why I remember this but it is burned into my long term memory) taught us how to apply our religious war paint. What the Crusades failed to do for hundreds of years, we would accomplish with 15 kids in full face spackle. Did I mention this was a co-ed camp? The only thing worse than sending your daughter into this insanity would be to send your son. This does not bode well for his survival on the playground of life.
I also remember sitting in front of the same mirror, using baby wipes to get rid of all that spiritual veneer, when Tal walked up to me and made a sad noise, then said “Oh, too bad, you’re wiping off your pretty face.” He might have been trying to compliment my pious cosmetics, but I heard “Oh, too bad, now we have to see your real face again” and another scar was added to my soul. Thanks, Tal, wherever you are.
*Side note — I know that there was a female counselor there, logically there would have to be, but I have no memory of her. This is what happens when your first name and your initials are not the same, I guess. Poor chick worked hard that summer and I don’t have the faintest flicker of her in my mind because her mother gave her a decent moniker.
Towards the end of the week, we were forced to lather up in full greasepaint, don our clown outfits there were fished out of a large bin and then herded onto a bus to be driven to the local hospital. We were going to be “entertaining” the patients in the children’s ward. We were also probably planting the seeds of night terrors that would last for years. Very few of us had clown related talents, like balloon tying or juggling, most of us wanted to be anywhere but where we were and yet we were stalking through the children’s ward torturing munchkins that were already unlucky enough to be sick and therefore a captive audience.
About 15 minutes into this debacle, the power went out in the entire hospital. Generators kicked on, and non-essential staff — of which we were the poster children — were herded into the cafeteria to sit in the dark and try to stay out of the way. When the power didn’t come on right away, cafeteria workers started to hand out ice cream rather than have it all melt in the freezers. I can’t imagine what we must have looked like…deranged home made clowns in hand-me-down clothes trying to slurp up ice cream without smearing their make up which counselors flitted around to make sure no one was missing. What I wouldn’t pay to have a video of that. Anyway, some time passed, the power stayed out and the decision was made to scrap the day and head back to camp. We piled back onto the bus and headed to our woodsy retreat.
Here’s the best thing: there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day. There wasn’t lightening or a storm of any sort that could have caused the power to go out and then stay out for that length of time. I’m assuming it was the combined power of all those soul-weary pre-teen Clowns for Christ praying for a release from their version of hell. Add in the dismayed kids that were being “entertained” and we have a brown out. Voila! Miracles.