The Cleveland Clinic was my childhood hospital. I visited my pediatrician there with my two brothers more times than I care to remember. I didn’t recognize it as the world-premier institution that it is, though. I just knew it as the place with the clown posters on the wall.
Within this enormous waiting area with a few children’s toys and books, there were these rather intimidating clown posters that had french words written on them. The clowns weren’t sad or particularly happy. They were just there, staring down at you as you waited to get your next shot.
The clowns were such a part of my childhood that I lamented their loss when the Cleveland Clinic decided to venture out into satellite buildings closer to our house. As I was old enough to drive and needed blood work instead of height and weight checks, I still wanted to wait in that room. There was something about having clowns look down at you that made everything seem absurd, and by that measure, made everything relatively okay.
The question I really want to ask is if I have ever replaced the beautiful smeared lipstick of the clown with anything else that is worth noting. I want to know if there has been anything that I have hung up around me that has given me the same level of consistency and understanding for things, even in all of their chaos and unbelievability. And more than that, can we all hang our own clowns up in the waiting rooms that we frequent so that nothing seems as real as it is and we can float away from the pain that forthcoming into a place of fantasy and interest?
The waiting rooms in our lives are not in hospitals for the most part. They are in our cars, in our homes, and wherever else we can’t have the instant gratification we crave. They are even in our email as we wait for responses. They are in our physical objects that don’t update as fast as our digital ones.
And as we wait for lights to change or someone to hit the reply all button, there really is very little in the way of clown ambiance. But, I think that there could be more of it, if we tried hard enough. We could make the background of waiting just slightly more comforting if we worked to create reminders of the hilarity of it all.
Here is what I am proposing:
1. E-mails should have an escape hatch. Within every reply there should be a link that you could click to get away from the experience entirely. There should be a link in signatures to an inspiring photograph of an absurd situation. There should be a labyrinthian puzzle to traverse before you can get back to your e-mail. It should be hard and worthwhile, but it should be more difficult to do your e-mail without being reminded of how ridiculous it is that we are tied to a machine for multiple hours of the day.
2. Traffic lights should be hackable. Instead of just having a green orb to tell us to go, we should have the ability to upload our own (filtered, perhaps) image to the green light so that when it changes we are looking at what it could possibly be. The only people who might be able to see this change are the ones that just missed the light the time before, and thus the folks with the most time on their hands. By ensuring that others can tap into what the traffic light is all about, it is ensuring that the absurdity of humanity is represented in one of the craziest practices we do every day (letting a color tell us when to go and stop).
3. The physical objects around us should make fun of us on a regular basis. Or, maybe we should just get in on the joke. After all, books know more than we do about their particular subjects or stories. Chairs do a better job than us at supporting a person’s weight. The plastics that we use everyday will likely outlive us. Perhaps all of this should be made known to us more consistently. Subtle hints could be dropped in the form of notes or casual taunts. Our objects could be the clowns of consistency that stare at us every day if we let them.
While I’m not sure that the Cleveland Clinic was trying to promote this idea or not, here is what I learned from sitting in that room for endless hours in my youth:
The whole world is a circus. The sooner you recognize that and start laughing about it, the better the world will become.
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