The best and worst of humanity

“You’ve seen the best and worst of humanity, haven’t you?” Such simple yet true words spoken by a friend’s father on seeing me, freshly home from Bangladesh. It captures the essence of Clowns Without Borders work, which takes us into crisis zones, but also into the resilient hearts and spirits of the communities there where we experience some of life’s greatest paradoxes.

Working in conflict zones, like Myanmar, we get to see what some humans do to other humans out of fear and ignorance.  We see disconnection, delusion and hypocrisy. We see how humans strip other humans of their basic human rights, like freedom and identity. Where, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, there is no future without forgiveness. But working in refugee camps, like those in Bangladesh, we also see human kindness. We see what humans do for other humans, out of love and compassionate service. We see communities brought together, working as one, and people coming from all over to provide emotional, physical and mental relief. We see how meaningful that is for a community like the Rohingya who have felt so unseen and forgotten by the world, but are now receiving the urgent attention they need. On a larger scale, this duality reminds me of the Cherokee story about the great battle of the two wolves that live inside of us; the wolf of fear, anger, greed and the wolf of love, joy, hope. When the young boy asks the elder which one will win, he says, ‘The one you feed”. Our work, like the many other NGOs working in these areas, is to witness both wolves but to feed the second one.

Another paradox, which Khalil Gibran expresses so beautifully, is that, “the deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain”. It is a deeply humbling experience to witness the shining eyes and laughter of a community in crisis. And the smallest things create the greatest joys. Like bubbles and kites, which lift the eyes and the spirits too. Like the bubble that gets away and floats higher and higher. Everyone is watching it, breathing together, with a mind free of thoughts and sorrows. Everyone is on the same team wishing for it to float just a little bit longer, a little bit higher. And then the inevitable moment when it pops. A collective outbreath and then back to earth, back to reality. But something about that small moment of dreaming and hoping together, lingers on. It is a big small moment.

We look for the small and make it big. We look for the smallest children, the ones being pushed to the side, unseen. We see them, play with them, cherish them, and make them the heroes. We celebrate the big small successes, like the moment a young Rohingya girl volunteered to be in the show instead of only boys or the moment the community decided the adolescent girls could attend the show too. I couldn't do this work if I didn't believe in the power of the small and the power of a moment. Like the power of someone who sees you in your most vulnerable and still loves you. Someone who sees you as a survivor, not a victim. Someone who sees your beauty and strength despite your circumstances. There’s something about these moments that reach deep inside and enable you to access resources you didn't know you had left. Like a smile or a laugh. It can be some of the biggest small moments of your life. It can be pure medicine.

Despite the duality and paradoxes of the situations we enter into, the place where the clowns and the community meet is like Rumi’s field, ‘out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing’. In that field, ‘when the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about’. Only the sound of laughter can be heard… 

/Annabel Morgan