One of our favorite chapters from Elizabeth Lesser's wonderful book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow is "Bozos on the Bus", excerpted below. We hope you're happy as we are to just be another bozo on the bus.
One of my heroes is the clown-activist Wavy Gravy. He is best known for a role that he played in 1969, when he was the master of ceremonies at the Woodstock festival. Since then, he’s been a social activist, a major “fun-d”-raiser for good causes, a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavor, an unofficial hospital chaplain, and the founder of a camp for inner-city kids. Every four years he campaigns as a candidate for president of the United States, under the pseudonym Nobody, making speeches all over the country with slogans like “Nobody for President,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Nobody Should Have That Much Power.” He’s a seriously funny person, and a person who is serious about helping others. “Like the best of clowns,” wrote a reporter in The Village Voice, “Wavy Gravy makes a big fool of himself as is necessary to make a wiser man of you. He is one of the better people on earth.”
Wavy (I’m on a first-name basis with him from clown workshops he’s offered at Omega) is a master of one-liners, like the famous one he delivered on the Woodstock stage: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000”; and this one, on why he became a clown: “You don’t hear a bunch of bullies get together and say, ‘Hey, let’s go kill a few clowns.’”
But my all-time favorite Wavy-ism is the line that opens this chapter, about bozos on the bus, one he repeats whenever he speaks to groups, whether at clown workshops or in children’s hospitals. I have co-opted the phrase, and I use it to begin my workshops, because I believe that we are all bozos on the bus, contrary to the self-assured image we work so hard to present to each other on a daily basis. We are all half-baked experiments—mistake-prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world. None of us are models of perfect behavior: We have all betrayed and been betrayed; we’ve been known to be egotistical, unreliable, lethargic, and stingy; and each one of us has, at times, awakened in the middle of the night worrying about everything from money, kids, or terrorism to wrinkled skin and receding hairlines. In other words, we’re all bozos on the bus.
This, in my opinion, is cause for celebration. If we’re all bozos, then for God’s sake, we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos. We can approach the problems that visit bozo-type beings without the usual embarrassment and resistance. It is so much more effective to work on our rough edges with a light and forgiving heart. Imagine how freeing it would be to take a more compassionate and comedic view of the human condition — not as a way to deny our defects but as a way to welcome them as part of the standard human operating system. Every single person on this bus called Earth hurts; it’s when we have shame about our failings that hurt turns into suffering. In our shame, we feel outcast, as if there is another bus somewhere, rolling along on a smooth road. Its passengers are all thin, healthy, happy, well-dressed, and well-liked people who belong to harmonious families, hold jobs that don’t bore or aggravate them, and never do mean things, or goofy things like forget where they parked their car, lose their wallet, or say something totally inappropriate. We long to be on that bus with the other normal people.
But we are on the bus that says bozo on the front, and we worry that we may be the only passenger onboard. This is the illusion that so many of us labor under—that we’re all alone in our weirdness and our uncertainty; that we may be the most lost person on the highway. Of course we don’t always feel like this. Sometimes a wave of self-forgiveness washes over us, and suddenly we’re connected to our fellow humans; suddenly we belong.
It is wonderful to take your place on the bus with the other bozos. It may be the first step to enlightenment to understand with all of your brain cells that the other bus—that sleek bus with the cool people who know where they are going—is also filled with bozos: bozos in drag, bozos with secrets. When we see clearly that every single human being, regardless of fame or fortune or age or brains or beauty, shares the same ordinary foibles, a strange thing happens. We begin to cheer up, to loosen up, and we become as buoyant as those people we imagined on the other bus. As we rumble along the potholed road, lost as ever, through the valleys and over the hills, we find ourselves among friends. We sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Excerpted from Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.