Dad took us to see the Shrine Circus when it came to town. My father, playful and listening? I took it whenever it came, but I didn’t trust it much. I never knew how long it might last. I had never been to the circus before. As I said, Dad taking us somewhere fun and playful? It didn’t happen very often. And when, on occasion, it did happen–like when he drove the truck with the lift-arm home from his job with the Michigan State Highway Department and gave us kids rides in the bucket that was then lifted skyward–well, I participated when it happened, yet thinking, “Don’t get too excited. This will not last. It will not last.”
This time it was the Circus. And I went along, not even remembering how many of our family went that day. Afraid of being squashed by the elephants, we walked past them into the circus ring. Afraid and also excited beyond belief, my heart pounded. We found our seats on the bleachers surrounding the ring. Was Mom with us too? I don’t recall. Something like a Christmas miracle causes all but the most memorable to rise up. The smells of sawdust and popcorn, cotton candy, and something else, a smell of fear, of anticipation, of the terror of danger and death, an animal smell.
The ringmaster finally came out and the circus began. Beautiful white horses rode out into the center ring, riding side-by-side with a man standing on their backs, one of his feet on each of them, balancing and riding; the tigers, gorgeous and big wheeled into the ring in their cages and their master letting them out, cracking his whip, commanding them to jump through his fiery hoops. When the tiger man had the tigers let out a roar I felt the scream rising up from my gut to my throat. The crowd gasped as one when the trapeze artist let go of her large swing, twisted in the air, and caught the hands of her partner hanging down from his swing by his knees.
Then the lights went down dramatically. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the ringmaster called out, ” I call your attention to the circus ring to your left,” and his hands made a sweeping motion to our left as the spotlights came up on the beautiful scene there. A huge crescent moon hung down from the rafters, white and blue sparkling and twinkling with stars all around. Balancing on the moon was a beautiful woman dressed in sparkling sky-blue and a feather with stars shining in the spotlight rising up from her head. The beauty began to move and we could see then that she was seated on a trapeze swing above the moon, ready to perform her trapeze routine. That’s when we heard a scream. The crowd again gasped as one as the moon lady fell from her swing. There was chaos and bedlam then as circus staff and others from the crowd ran to the fallen madam and her moon. I stared, with my mouth and eyes wide in awe and fear, my stomach dropping as if it was me fallen to the ground. There was no net to catch her fall. Medics then came with a stretcher to take the moon lady away and we walked out, the circus over. Why? Why, the one time we got to go to the circus did something tragic have to happen.
The next day we looked for the story in the newspaper. There we read that moon lady had broken both her legs along with other injuries. There had been no net. Why was she performing without a net? I wondered.
I was taught it is a fallen world. We are fallen people. Happiness would never last too long. Too much pride, too much giddy happiness may go before a fall. Best to keep working with my head down, waiting… And the fall did happen. My fall, with my one daughter, Temma. My fall from grace. When my daughter stopped breathing at 2 days old, and I knew it was my fault, I was “found out” for the whole world to know. I am guilty.
Today, my daughter, Temma Day turns 34-years-old. I keep falling. So does she, but nets abound these days. She smiles and my whole world lights up. She forgives and I get up once again. Happy Birthday, Temma. Life with you is a circus. I love you.