Most of life never rises to something that we would call an experience. We turn off a light; we shoo away a fly. No such event becomes even a short-term memory. So why does the mind preserve some small pieces from long ago? Is there something we’re supposed to learn from them? Does our consciousness continue to access them because they’ve become part of who we are? Does memory retain them so that we might register and respond to the goodness of God? Or do they linger as a lesson, as some part of our lives liberated by the grace of God?
When I was in first grade, the subject, which we simply called “art,” came, somewhat irregularly, on Friday afternoons. Looking back, I wonder how someone like Sister Theresa came up with lessons plans before the internet. There was probably a pamphlet, a teacher’s aide, entitled, “A Hundred and One Easy Art Lessons for Your Primary School Student.” Perhaps this project carried a leader, saying, “The Confetti Clown: a perfect way to use up your supply of colored construction paper fragments.”
Sister handed out mimeographed pictures of a fat clown. I believe I speak for all primary school students of long ago, when I say that we loved anything mimeographed. There’s nothing to like about a spelling or a math worksheet, nothing indeed, except that marvelous smell of the mimeograph. If Sister asked you to distribute them, you got to sniff the entire stack! Have you always believed that something went awry with baby boomers? Check out mimeograph sniffing. I think you’ll find your culprit.
For this project, we were to tear the scraps of colored construction paper into little pieces of confetti and then glue them to the mimeographed clown, creating his costume. Sister Theresa announced that we would do this project in pairs. I’m reconstructing here. We were parochial school students, so we didn’t waste paper, as all public school students did. And we probably sent a lot of our colored-construction paper scraps to the missions.
Owen McQuade was my partner. This was the perpetual problem of my primary school years. I was always teamed with losers. Indeed, when it came to playground sports, I wasn’t even a selected member of the squad. I was in that group that got assigned when the team captain would say, “And you can have the rest.” The sad little sin of the primary school years: the losers aren’t even kind to each other.
Owen McQuade has become a powerful man, much like his father, very kind and gentle. Back then, all I could see was his sloppiness with Elmers. I kept looking at the two desks pushed together in front of us, where Loretta Straub and Joanie Robl were tearing construction paper into the smallest of fragments, carefully using a single drop of Elmers to glue each color onto the clown’s costume. I tried to imitate the girls and tear off a very small piece, but it was too tiny to glue. Meanwhile, Owen was ripping up construction paper and shellacking it with glue, like we were installing wall paper.
At the end of the period Sister Theresa would have held up Loretta’s and Joan’s clown for admiration, before affixing it to the board. Owen and I would have heard, “Clean up your mess, boys. It’s time to go home.”
Let’s connect confetti clowns to the kingdom of God, just as Jesus did with the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, and the master, who returns when we least expect. The kingdom constantly tries to break through the cracks in our lives. To be human is to carry around a heart, loaded full of hopes and wishes, but some confetti clown stands between us and happiness, and, if God were good and God were wise—as we reckon such things—God would shower our lives with the confetti we need to make classy clowns.
But the kingdom breaks into our lives, and changes them, when we respond to the cracks, to the challenges of the day. Yes, we’re ready to be kind, and patient, and loving when the pitch comes right over the plate. If only that were how life threw them!
We don’t pitch the game of life, at least not for ourselves. We bat. We have to swing at what life throws. How good are we with the cracks, with responding to unexpected demands? The return of the master? A crappy confetti clown? No one is born a great batter or a saint. It’s something that we learn when, in graced memory, we retrace what went wrong.
I don’t remember if I told Owen that I thought that he was sloppy. I sadly suspect that I did. But something greater than a confetti clown was being patched together that day. Maybe the Lord has left the memory as a lesson, one that still instructs my weak, self-centered soul. It’s not the confetti clowns we make that matter. It’s the love we learn while doing it.
Wisdom 18: 6-9 Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19 Luke 12: 35-40