The Show Must Go On

My love affair with the circus started as a child in Romania when a caravan coming all the way from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, or Hungary would set up the big tent in an open field not far from the concrete grey cluster of high-rise communist era apartments we lived in.
We were so dazzled by the lights, the bright and happy colors, the clowns, the caged tigers and the lumbering giant elephants, the glittering costumes, the trapeze artists, and the magical sights and sounds of the circus, that we were hooked for life.
We wanted to run away with the circus not because of the Bohemian , thrilling, and fascinating travel life in cramped trailers, but because we wanted to see the world like them, beyond the heavily guarded and barb-wired borders where we could get shot even daring to approach it. We imagined beautiful and indescribable freedom beyond the frowning and heavily armed soldiers who were told to shoot on sight and ask questions later.
As soon as the big tent went up, all the kids in the neighborhood started hanging around the circus site, leaving home early each day and returning late at night. Then one morning, we would wake up and the circus would be gone – a few holes left in the ground were the only markers that they were ever there. A sense of sadness and loss overcame the kids in the neighborhood and nobody came out to play for a while. It was as if we were mourning the lost opportunity for freedom. It was a fascinating ephemeral world that now lived just in our memories. The joy could have lasted longer on celluloid but nobody had cameras or the means to develop photos.
One beautiful blond girl from our building ran away with the circus several times but she never made it very far. The police would find her, take her into custody, lock her up for a few hours to scare her, and return her later to parents who were fined for being so “bad and neglectful,” and did not follow the parental rules and dictates of the communist regime. To this day, I marvel that they never took her away from her parents to send her to a juvenile reform school. She probably would have found a way to escape; she was a dreamy Bohemian who liked to stretch the limits.
My fascination with the circus never died because it gave me so much joy and wonder as a child. I took my young children to see a Three Ring performance here in the United States and visited recently and wrote about the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey winter quarters and museum in Sarasota, Florida.
Last night my husband surprised me with tickets to the Extreme Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey show in Fairfax, Virginia. We went early and mingled with some of the performers, the acrobats, the clowns, the BMX bike acrobats, and the most docile elephant in the menagerie, Mabel.
We learned that the circus has teamed up with a doctor in Utah who does research on pediatric cancer. The announcer said that elephants very seldom get cancer and doctors are studying their herd to find out why and perhaps find a cure.
We were dazzled by the acts, the strobe lights, the sixteen tigers, the six camels, the Arabian horse, the trapeze acts, the five elephants, the lady who was shot from a cannon, defying extra G-force on her body, the wire acts, the jugglers, and by all the modern pizazz augmenting an old art.
Near the end, the BMX performance was sadly cut short when one of the seasoned bikers flew in the air and, upon landing, his tire blew out, bringing him to a sudden stop that threw him airborne, and, continuing the momentum, landed him at the bottom, on his neck, face down. He did not move again. To my horror, the show continued for a few more minutes. It was finally stopped but nobody left the arena, everyone was concerned for his safety and wanted to make sure he was alive. I was so close that I could see he was still breathing but unresponsive. Shocked spectators, who were so happy moments earlier, started to file out of the arena, silently and in tears.
The show must go on but the glitz, glamor, and fantastic skill of the performers were shadowed by the severe injury of this young man. The reality of human frailty in the face of such daring acts of impossible athleticism sunk in hard. We hope and pray that he makes a full recovery.

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