Connecting with Dad in Circus City

In addition to its beautiful beaches and peaceful energy, one of the things that drew me to my new home in Sarasota, Florida is the circus arts community. Sarasota used to be the winter quarters for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and many circus performers and their families still live here. There are nods to the history of the circus all around town as well as a museum, a college, a bridge, and a boulevard carrying the Ringling name. Not surprisingly, one of Sarasota’s nicknames is “Circus City.”

I have a joyful place in my heart for the circus. When I was a little guy, my dad took me to see “The Greatest Show on Earth” at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton, NY (my hometown.) It is one of the few memories I have with my dad since he died when I was just 7 years old. I’m guessing the happy association I have with the circus and my father is one reason I love living in “Circus City.” 

In my mind’s eye, I can still see the cavalcade of performers parading through the arena in their shimmering, sequined costumes. Some with elaborate headdresses sprouting giant feathers. Even the elephants and horses had bling in their blankets. This little boy was completely captivated by the pageantry and spectacle!

Interestingly, not many details of the circus acts themselves remain in my mind. I do remember laughing at the antics of the clowns and being amazed by the two motorcyclists who raced around inside a spherical cage without crashing into each other. I also remember my dad buying me a toy like a flashlight with a spinning top that resembled the swirling light on a police car. I’m not sure what attracted me to this toy, but I must have been thrilled to have it because I can still picture it 5 decades later!

That little boy could not have guessed that one day he would have a good friend who performed as a clown for 2 years in “The Greatest Show on Earth.” That friend now works for an organization here in Sarasota called the Circus Arts Conservatory. What an unexpected blessing to get invited to many of the local circus performances as his guest! 

This past weekend, he invited me to see the Sailor Circus, a show performed entirely by students enrolled in the Sailor Circus Academy. That’s the training branch of the Circus Arts Conservatory. From their website: “The Academy provides a rigorous after-school circus training program where students learn to develop life management skills, gain self-discipline, bolster confidence and a commitment to achievement, all in a safe and nurturing circus atmosphere.”

These young people were doing acrobatics, high wire, clowning, juggling, unicycle riding, silks, and even the flying trapeze. I was blown away by their courage and skill. When I was that age, I was eating Doritos and watching reruns of Bewitched after school. What they are able to accomplish is truly inspiring. 

While I appreciate their skills and commitment, what impressed me the most was hearing them talk about what this program meant to them. At intermission, they played a short video where the graduating seniors shared their stories. Each one emphasized how the program gave them a sense of belonging and an opportunity to make friends. They gained confidence and learned the value of working together toward a common goal. Many students teared up while talking about how impactful their mentors have been. It was very moving!

Having very few friends and zero interest in sports, I certainly felt like an outsider in high school. I couldn’t help but wonder if a program like this would have brought shy little John out of his shell sooner. Yes, believe it or not, I was extremely shy in my youth. 

Over the past 12 years, Family Constellations has taught me the importance of belonging. Bert Hellinger, the founder of this modality, felt his most significant contribution was his observations on belonging. He witnessed time after time that we will unconsciously give up everything to belong. It touches me deeply to know the Sailor Circus provides a place where kids (many shy, awkward ones like me) feel like they belong. 

Click the following links to see a short video about the Circus Arts Conservatory and to hear what graduating seniors had to say about their experience in the Sailor Circus

If you are seeking connection and community while expanding your capacity to love, consider trying our Transformational Tuesday online A Course in Miracles Study Group. It’s a joyful group of miracle workers dedicated to shifting their perception from fear to love. For more information about this weekly gathering, visit the Miracles page on my website. 

You will also find information there about Spiritual Coaching and Family Constellations. Both can help you move past a challenging situation or recurring pattern. Thanks to the internet, we can meet no matter where you are in the world. If you’re ready for a shift, send me an email or use my automated scheduler to book a session. It would be my great honor to work with you!

Until next time, may the joy in your heart lead to wonderful places where you know you belong.

The light that belongs to you is the light of joy.

A Course in Miracles ~ T-5.in.1:4

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