As published in Scotsman Guide's Residential Edition, January 2010.
Five years ago, I noticed an advertisement in my local newspaper for volunteer hospital clowns. Having participated in my high school drama club and in community theater during college, I felt intrigued by the opportunity. I also was seeking a way to move forward personally following the death of my husband.
After responding to the ad, I was admitted to the Bumper "T" Caring Clowns Inc. school. As part of my training, I learned how to put on my clown face, and I acquired a uniform of hospital scrubs and a white lab coat. I also learned about the program's rules and regulations and about hospital procedures for volunteers.
But the real lessons started when I began to visit patients.
On one of my first trips to a hospital, I met a quadriplegic who also was physically unable to speak. When one of my mentors, DR Stitches, began to play a song on a miniature toy violin, the man's eyes lit up with excitement. In that moment, I learned the power of gentle humor to break barriers.
Many of the lessons I have learned since also are useful in my business life. Much like entering a hospital room and being ready to adjust to the mood of a patient, I must be open-minded and responsive to my clients' needs. As a hospital clown, some visits are tough, and others are fun. The same can be said of customers in any line of work.
Since my days in clown school, I have spent countless hours in character as DR Smilie Pie, listening and hand-holding as frightened patients poured out their hearts to a stranger with face paint and a big red nose.
The relationship can work the other way, too. The day my grandmother died of breast cancer, I put on my clown face and visited cancer patients. The experience was undeniably more healing for me than it was for them. It also allowed me to honor my grandma's battle with cancer and to witness the hope and power behind people's will to live.
As a volunteer clown, I often find myself caught in the magic of the moment. Visits can begin with a stream of jokes and end with tears of sorrow. For me, one of the best feelings comes when I make a grouchy patient smile. The same thing feels great at work, too.
In a hospital room, I would never be angry or annoyed with a patient, and clowning has taught me empathy and patience in every situation.
It's funny looking back on these past five years. I almost never read the newspaper, yet I spotted an ad that changed my personal and professional lives dramatically. For me, neither my volunteer efforts nor professional pursuits would be what they are without compassion and commitment. If you can find those two things, happiness is right behind.
Meg Murphy is a certified credit consultant for Credit Justice Services, a national credit-restoration company that helps consumers protect their credit rights. Reach her at (904) 757-0880 or firstname.lastname@example.org. CJS (www.creditjusticeservices.com) has helped more than 18,000 consumers improve their credit scores, and the company is the fourth-largest credit-repair company in the U.S. For more information about the Bumper "T" Caring Clowns Inc. program, visit www.bumpertcaringclowns.org.