The Circus Tent

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between we fear…It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”
– Marilyn Ferguson

Wham! Right between the eyes! That’s “it!” I’m mostly “recovered” from grieving, mostly okay with new routines, mostly “adjusted,” and mostly lots of other positive things. But – BUT! I’m “between trapezes.” Or perhaps more accurately, I’m hanging on for dear life to an “old” trapeze that has outlived its usefulness, one that has lost its momentum and is flapping aimlessly, waiting for me to let go and reach across the abyss to catch the next one. I am unconsciously attempting to live the same old life even though some of the same old parts of it are gone forever. My old trapeze was a two-seater; flying it solo just doesn’t work the same way.
I want so badly to let go… I have, in so many ways, but I want, finally, to do so completely.  The irony is that I want an active game plan for what is essentially a passive task. It’s not that I need to do something specific; rather, I need to simply allow. Perhaps playing with this trapeze metaphor can show me how to get to that next level of letting go. Really, finally, opening my fist, as it were, unclenching those white knuckles, and flying free. Ah, but flying to where? To be “caught?” To catch a crossing trapeze that will take me in a new direction? Or – and this is what keeps the fists clenched – to drop like a stone to a hard landing?  It’s the thought of not being caught on the other side that stops me.

Maybe I need to see beyond that single trapeze that is my present trajectory. What holds that trapeze in place, let alone allows me to ride its sweeping arc?

Maybe life is like a circus tent. Once inside, we get to explore, to climb rope ladders of various experiences, “choose our trapeze,” and take a ride.  Perhaps we discover that we really like a particular ride. We get used to its familiar arc, its rhythms. We get comfortable with its flight pattern. “Holding on” becomes effortless, so much a part of us that we hardly realize we’re doing so. We’re just enjoying the ride.

Chances are, though, that we’re destined to ride more than one trapeze during our lifetime. Any number of things may alter the trajectory. Jobs, health, family circumstances, death. And when change threatens, looms, or simply occurs without warning, the initial instinct is to hold on even tighter, pump, even, in an attempt to recreate energy and rejuvenate momentum in spite of the fact that the underpinnings of that particular ride are no longer in place. We do this because that is all we know. We cling with desperation, when ironically only releasing can give us the peace and the new energy that we so desperately seek.

In order to make the most of “our time in the tent,” however, we also need to learn to let go when the ride has wound down.
Any more clues in this metaphor? I think so – to look at the tent as a whole. If we consider the tent as a symbol for life here on earth, then the tent can be seen as God’s creation made tangible. It is a divine gift, and all the marvels within represent God’s wish for us to be creative, happy, alive, and in concert with all creation as part of the mystical Oneness of all things. The trapezes represent opportunities, and there are many, many trapezes inside that Very Big Tent. But there is something else in there, too, something we often neglect to remember: A safety net.

Aha! A safety net! That puts “letting go” into an entirely different category. If I let go, and miss catching the crossing trapeze, or find none in my path to grab, I will merely bounce into the net. True, that means climbing up to start all over again, but that’s hardly the same as dropping like a stone, or cracking apart like some Humpty Dumpty falling off of the wall. It’s the safety net I have not been trusting adequately. How very human of me, wanting assurance that I can do this All By Myself, thinking that I can be strong enough, creative enough, you-name-it-whatever-else enough. The ultimate arrogance, perhaps.

The simple, quiet truth patiently awaits my discovery, silently asks for my trust: God made the Circus Tent, and God created it with a huge, multifaceted safety net. The cords of the net are God’s very love for us, and the human hands we circus-attendees can extend to one another as we fly around the Big Top. I will be “caught.” I just don’t know exactly when, how, by whom or by what, which is a whole lot not to know! But if I let that unknowing stop me from flying, I am missing my destiny. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven,” it says in Ecclesiastes  –  and that surely includes a time to hold on, and a time to let go.  Ultimately, when I let go, I will be ahead, finally allowing what is over, whether I wanted it to be over or not, to be “over.”
Still, the actual means of unclenching are challenging. I get the concept, the necessity. To accomplish the deed, I need new visions to replace old ones. What’s tricky is that the old visions are concrete snapshots, verifiable history; the new ones merely possible conjectures, faint sketches, at very best. I must, however, learn to flesh out these new images, give them visual power to energize my sense of possibility, careful not to be so entrenched in the past, or tied to the present, that I cannot envision a future. I need to trust my instincts, and to realize that when one thing is truly done and over, “different” is not threatening, it’s to be welcomed! Maybe I know nothing about what it can be, but what I do know is that what “was” no longer works. Come on in, “different.” Be my guest. Let’s see who you are, and what you have to offer!

In To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue, wise, wonderful poet and priest, includes a blessing entitled “For the Interim Time.” He says:
“…the path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
‘The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.’ ”
That’s why it’s so hard to let go of the trapeze. But he goes on:
“As far as you can, hold on to your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might become free
From all you have outgrown.”
Perhaps it is enough if the clench gives way just a little more each day. Perhaps the ultimate safety net is accepting myself just as I am, knowing that (in O’Donoue’s words)
“What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.”
Here’s the poem’s final benediction, reassuring words for all “trapeze artists:”
“The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.”
Or for catching that next trapeze in this Great Circus Tent we call Life…
Hope all’s well in your corner of the tent.


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