Friday, October 14, 2005

The Greatest Show on Earth

Once upon a time, in a land not very far away, there was a rather large and famous circus—the “Greatest Show on Earth.” People came by the hundreds to see the spectacular shows put on by this circus. Children were awed and fascinated by the funny clowns and feats of bravery; women delighted in the glamorous array of colors and costumes; and men were impressed (but tried not to act too interested) with the magic tricks and balancing acts.

The Owner and Creator of the circus was a Kind, Benevolent One, who grieved at some of the raucous antics put on by the circus group for the sake of entertainment. The Owner was very busy and important, so He entrusted most of the affairs of the circus to His manager, the Minister—I mean, the Master of Ceremonies. M.C., (as he was called) had many responsibilities, as one would imagine, for such a large and famous circus, but he was wise and mature. He did his best, and he meant well; he was loved and appreciated. Generally, the circus workers got along well together, from the clowns to the cotton candy sellers, and they were all one big happy family, working and living together at the circus.

Alas, one day, as was bound to happen, there arose a scuffle under the big tent. During one particularly rowdy show, the Ringleader had gotten her feathers quite ruffled, and rumors were flying that she was at odds with one of the lions. Apparently, this Lioness had shown menacing behavior in the ring, and also in past encounters with the Ringleader outside the ring. Alarm spread throughout the crew, like the dust kicked up by the scuffle: this simply would not do, to have mistrust breeding among this big, happy, circus family.

Rose, the Ringleader, was a very important program coordinator: she always had all of her “elephants in a row.” She employed a host of clowns under her program whose job was simply to entertain the huge crowds of children that packed out the Big Tent for every circus show. Lydia, the Lioness, was an influential part of the circus, too. This particular lioness had a mate who sat on a high platform and held a formidable authority over the other lions in the pack. He was a well-trained, regal-looking lion, and people loved to see him leap onto the platform and hold up a chair for the other lions to prance under. Lydia Lioness was often called, “Queen of the Pride,” because she mothered several cubs. On this night, however, her behavior was mean and vicious, not nurturing at all. Shock and horror rippled through the crowd, when the Lioness snarled and showed her teeth. The Ringleader thought she must have done something wrong, for the Lioness to have acted so threateningly, so she quickly called for the Lion-tamer to intervene.

(Parental warning: due to graphic details, parents may not wish to continue reading this story to their little children.)

Lily, the Lion-tamer, happened to be married to the Master of Ceremonies. Lily was not bold and daring as many thought, but rather a shy and timid personality, which earned her the nickname, “Lily-livered.” Lions love to eat liver—and they could smell fear from a mile away. Lily did not realize what a dangerous a position she was in, and neither did her husband, M.C. After all, the lions had always seemed tame—especially Lydia, the Lioness. Lily had always enjoyed reading about lion-taming, but she liked the idea of confronting and training the lions much more than actually doing it.

Incredibly naive, Lily, the lily-livered lion-tamer, jumped into the ring with both feet when Rose, the Ringleader, called for her assistance. A huge cage was lowered from somewhere up above the ring, leaving only Lily and Lydia enclosed in the iron bars.

(Insertion: the moral to the story is “Never get into a cage with an angry lioness.”)

As the bars lowered around them, angry claws lashed out and whips cracked in the air. Total chaos seemed to last forever, although it was only a few minutes. When the smoke cleared, it looked as though the Lion-tamer had scored a victory, as the lioness crouched upon her perch. But, no—she was only resting. At this point, the Master of Ceremonies decided he’d better step into the ring, so he brought his faithful, loyal clown along with him, hoping to lighten up the atmosphere a bit. But they were no help at all, standing outside the iron bars, except to distract the attention of Lydia for a few seconds. Upon seeing them, the Lioness’s anger was incited further, for she was threatened by their presence. In an instant, all the growling and snarling ceased, signaling a deadly pause. Suddenly, the lioness pounced!

In an unprecedented attack, this here-to-fore friendly lioness turned into a raging predator, tearing flesh from limb, fur flying, blood spurting—it was an ugly scene in front of a horrified crowd. M.C. and the clown stood helplessly and watched, but they could do nothing to protect the lion-tamer. When the ruckus was over, the Master of Ceremonies stepped up to the microphone and announced the end of the show. The clowns rolled away all the props and the platform; the cage was lifted; the crowd, the crew, and the lions left; and the lights were turned out. In all of the mayhem following the vicious attack, it seems that everyone forgot to help the victim. Rose, the Ringleader, though shaken, managed to walk away from the encounter relatively unscathed. She had gone home for the evening to rest. Lydia, the Lioness, went back to her huge pride to lick her wounds and gloat over getting away with such wicked, rebellious behavior. Apparently, M.C. had so many details to take care of, for such a large and famous circus, that he forgot about his own wife, the bloodied pulp of a lily-livered lion-tamer laying on the floor.

Lily was dying, slowly bleeding to death. Dazed and almost in shock, she waited for merciful death, trying to rehearse what went wrong. Why did the video techniques on lion-taming not work this time? How could something so terrible happen, and the kind-hearted M.C. just stand by and watch? Where was the Great Circus Owner throughout this crisis—gone away on a trip!

Crying bitterly from the pain and injustice of it all, Lily, the Lion-tamer, lay in the center of the ring, under the Big Tent of the Greatest Show on Earth. Blissful death does not always arrive so easily. In a cruel sort of way, life goes on in the midst of suffering. It seems that “the SHOW must go on!” no matter the suffering of the victims.

The next day, the Master of Ceremonies found Lily in the center of the ring. He felt terrible, of course, for he really meant well, but he did not know how to administer first aid. All he could do was hold her and console her while she wept bitter tears. After a while, the faithful clown came into the ring, and he offered a great deal of sympathy, which helped to soothe her wounds like a salve. There seemed to be nothing anyone could do for the poor lion-tamer, except to offer sympathy. Rose, the Ringleader, came by later to visit Lily, and to express appreciation for her brave act of intervention. Nothing had been done to punish Lydia Lioness, however, and the Ringleader was still afraid of her. Someone told Lily something that made her feel even more miserable. It had been announced that the Lioness had reconciled with the Ringleader, and they were all one big, happy family again.

Healing of Lily’s painful wounds came very slowly, and the scars left from fear and distrust made the healing even slower. The Lion-tamer was out of commission for a long while. A ‘Help Wanted’ sign was posted for the position of temporary Lion-tamer, but no applicants seemed to want the job. The circus was getting a bad reputation for its wild, unruly lions, especially since no one cracked the whip at them any more. Lily didn’t think she could ever do the job again. Indeed, the whole glamour of the circus-life was over for her, and she contemplated moving on to another career after she recovered. The Lion-tamer was trapped, though, because she was married to the Master of Ceremonies, and the show had to continue on. One thing was for sure, the show went on and on, and people came from near and far. Everybody loved the circus—the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

In a land not very far away, the circus is still in town. The crowd waits for hours to get into the Big Tent. The Master of Ceremonies still looks dashing and debonair, though his hair is a bit greyer. The Ringleader keeps all of her elephants in a row, and the clowns are fabulously funny. Even the lions are amazingly cooperative, having played their parts so well for so long. Only a trained eye could catch the menacing glimmer of evil in the Lioness, or the slight, upturned start of a growl that is quickly restrained.

Where is the Lion-tamer? Lily is hiding safely away from the crowd’s eyes, in the back of the crew’s tent, still in recovery from the deadly, vicious attack. The life of a lily-livered lion-tamer is very lonely.

The moral of the story has already been offered: never get in the cage with an angry lion. Perhaps it might even prove safer never to go NEAR a lion, but that would require staying away from the circus.

The Show will go on;

the Show must go on…’s the Greatest Show on Earth!