The Ringmaster

As a child I was frequently called the class clown. A nut. A strange child. I was always looking for an audience, too. It didn’t matter to me if the audience came in the form of classmates in the lunch room or the principal waiting for me to make “the wrong move”. I loved audiences and I always believed my audiences loved me.

When I was six, my parents bought a magic kit for me for Christmas. It sat in the corner of my room collecting dust for almost a year. When I finally re-discovered it after all that time I had forgotten where it had come from, but I was immediately drawn to it because of the promise printed on the outside of the box. I’m sure all it said was, “Over 50 tricks inside,” but what I read was, “Amaze your friends! Fool your enemies! Be the life of the party! ” That was enough for me. I opened the box with the same care Fr. Hawkins used when opening the tabernacle on Sunday morning.

Inside the box was a collection of disappointment. There was a hollow finger made out of stiff plastic, a deck of “trick” cards (they looked normal to me), a photocopied booklet, three cheap plastic cups, and a tiny plastic ball. There were also a couple of handkerchiefs and some sponges shaped like rabbits. How in hell was I going to amaze my friends with a tiny plastic ball? I shoved everything back in the box and tossed it in the plastic trash can in the corner of my room. I forgot it was there just as quickly as I had found it.

A couple of nights later, I had  a strange dream. In it, I was the ringmaster of a large three-ring circus. We were in the middle of a Sunday afternoon performance and I was backstage waiting to go on to announce a brief intermission. I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and locked eyes with an old man with a long gray beard. Before I could say anything, he began speaking.

“So, you’re the ringmaster,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “What do you need?”

“Oh, nothing,” the old man said. “Just wanted to ask you a question.”

“Make it quick,” I said. “I have to get out there.”

“No you don’t.” The old man pulled back the curtain slightly and let me peak into the tent. All the action was frozen. “Follow me.” He pulled the curtain back all the way and walked slowly to the ring farthest from us. The whole time I followed him I was aware of the hundreds of eyes in the audience that didn’t notice us. When we arrived at the far ring he stopped and turned to me. “What do you see here?” he asked.

“The Diaz Family,” I answered. In the middle of the ring there was a family of four – a Mom, a Dad, a son, and a daughter – frozen in the act of leading trained dogs through hoops. They had joined our circus about two years ago and I had seen the act at least five hundred times. I didn’t offer any more details, and I’m not sure he would have heard me anyway. He had begun to walk back toward the center ring as soon as I tried to answer his question.

The old man stopped at the center ring and looked up. “What about here?”

“Those are Alex and Ivan Vorobyov. They’re trapeze…” He started walking away again while I was mid-sentence. “Didn’t you want to hear the rest?” I called after him.

He stopped at the third ring. “Who is this?” he asked. Before I even opened my mouth, he was walking back to where we had started. He walked out of the tent and the action started again immediately. I found myself standing there with my microphone in hand. The three acts had just finished and the audience was cheering. The spotlight swung over in my direction but stopped before it hit me. Suddenly the lights went out. The people disappeared. The tent disappeared. I was standing in an open field.

The old man was near me. “So, did they like your performance?” he asked.

“I didn’t give a performance,” I answered.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have anything to perform. I have no act. I just keep the other acts running.”

“Would you like an act to perform?”

“Yes, I would. Then people would pay attention to me. I want an audience to love me,” I replied.

“If you want an audience, the first thing you need to give them is an act worth seeing.”

I woke up. I got up out of bed and went to the trash can. I pulled out the magic kit and opened it slowly. It was time to become a magician.

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