Unmask the Clown, My Witness

Unmask the Clown, My Witness
by C. Perry Dougherty

I can see into the heart of service as a sick child laughs at the ugliness of his own pain.
His chuckle burns away the divide, and
the warmth of his still beating heart touches the candy-striper clown,
who, broken open and on fire, sheds his mask.
From the ashes of their wound, the two rise together as one.

When two hearts meet,
both are brought back to life.
Awakening is short lived.
Shields of dead skin, thin veils of brittle armor constructed over time by pain, 
reinforce small mind compulsions, which like floods from below
dampen the flints of compassion that see into the heart.
I fear what will be lost if I don’t try to fit in.

The servant, the disciple, the caregiver, and the lover,
with tear drop eyes, red noses that honk, white painted cheeks, pixie dust tricks,
give away sugary sweet goodies of pleasure and small trinkets of wealth.
The mask of acceptance—an empty shell that once burned peacefully bright—
role-plays as something more, forcefully forgetting that suffering lies on both sides of the altar.

Awakening is short lived but not forgotten.
A child’s chuckle breaks in.
The clown, standing still next to me, in a small voice speaks
to the ugliness and feels the truth of our pain—
outside, within, it’s all the same.

I see, again.
Eyes wide open.
No bells and whistles.
A soul force on fire.
Broken open, again.

My Witness, you have come to me.
Lead me.
I will follow.
I willfully shed.

And, as if for the first time burning—
I show up.
I serve.
And I begin again.


Author’s Note: This poem is inspired by stories in the book How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

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Rev. C. Perry Dougherty serves as a facilitator, spiritual director, and writer in her role as Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation & Society of Still Harbor. She has a background working with non-profit social justice organizations. She tailors her programs, workshops, and efforts to explore how spiritual practice, creative expression, and narrative can enrich spiritual leadership for social justice. Perry is an ordained Interfaith Minister by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary.