The Circus Next Door
I asked God to direct my writing and give me material.
This is not what I had in mind.
Large trucks pull into the empty lot around lunchtime. The photo-wrapped trailer shimmies up to the far fence and faces the road. The other one shimmies up to our side yard.
That’s close enough, thanks. Nice of you to block the dust, but I don’t need you checking out our laundry or feeding our dogs through the chainlink.
My attitude plummets when truck and trailer detach, back doors swing open, and a washing machine appears… about 20 feet from mine. Let me guess—you want to borrow a hose? And tap into our water?
Guilt reprimands so I timidly greet the driver and ask what they do. Please don’t say circus, please don’t say circus.
“It’s a comedy show with different acts.”
“Like a circus?”
“Yeah kinda,” he smiles, “But better. Starts tomorrow. You’ll like it!”
I’m picturing half-naked women telling raunchy jokes while half-naked guys balance trick monkeys and toss cats through hoops. But the only animals on board are a mutt and a duck.
Circus groups pass through here every year, and they’re not exactly quiet. First a man blankets the town with announcements blaring from speakers atop his car.
Everyday. Usually twice.
Then the sun sets, they flip on flood lights, suck a ghastly amount of volts from our house, and Mexican music pumps on past my bedtime.
I fake a smile. “And how long are you here?”
“One week, maybe two… depending how it goes.”
Oh sweet mother of pearl.
I saunter back inside with eyes rolling to the heavens and start to dread the next 7-14 days–depending how it goes.
I’m all caught up in myself when it hits me: this could be a ministry opportunity, Carrie.
I inadvertently hit back: mmkay… no.
What about the personality test that says you’re all about hospitality? And that verse about entertaining strangers who might be angels?
Yeah, I think I’m good for now–thanks.
I’ve learned a little about these traveling groups. They’re usually extended family affairs, uneducated from the top down, with dirty niños and a high rate of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
A young boy emerges and scans the ground. A dark, leathery-skinned man gives him some instruction and moves on while the boy picks up two rocks, juggles for a minute and chucks them to the perimeter of the lot.
No school today, little man?
A tall one looks about 19. Experienced with a mallet, he pounds stairs into place, rests in the shade, talks on his flip phone, and waits for his next assignment.
An old-school electric blue Explorer arrives next pulling a ghetto-fabulous travel trailer. The new neighbors’ dwelling, and my first twinge of empathy. I’ve lived in a trailer before; I know the crowded feeling with only four people. Theirs is smaller and contains the only bathroom for six.
My oldest walks in from school and sees the new arrivals. I raise my eyebrows and joke, “Aren’t you excited to live next to a circus for two weeks, buddy?”
“Heh—yeah,” he sighs. “I hope you didn’t pray for patience, ‘cause Jesus just answered your request.”
Am I the one who accidentally taught him to mix truth and sass?
So what would you do with a swarm of dirty strangers yards from your yard? From where you currently sit it might sound easy to take them sandwiches on adorable paper plates or serve chilled lemonade in cute Ball jars. And if it wasn’t 83.6 degrees inside, you might even bake a batch of your killer cookies.
Yep—those great intentions run through my mind, too. Hospitality comes easy when guests look, act, talk, and smell like me. But this week excuses flow and catch me off guard.
Another hot day—I should go take them some ice. Doesn’t look like they’re home though. Maybe later.
The women never come to this side of the property, and I don’t feel like walking all the way around the corner. Maybe I’ll catch them this afternoon.
A Saturday morning with no plans! I’ll stand at our fence and see if I can get someone’s attention. Wow—they can really sleep in. Maybe tonight will prove better.
Tonight is not better. In the middle of cooking dinner I dash outside to make a call. And then I hear it: the trickle that makes me wonder who’s wasting water. A slight breeze blows the flap of their tent and I see a boot.
Lord, have mercy. I am standing ten feet from a man relieving himself with only a chainlink fence and a piece of faded, striped fabric between us. The distraction is so thick I’m not sure my message is making sense. Long pauses, faking full attention through the phone… back up—maybe he thinks you didn’t see him.
Thoughts race about outhouses, privacy and toilet paper. Forget glamping; this is hardcore dry camping at its worst.
Each day brings a mix of empathy and disgust and I’m stuck in the middle of my own brain. Weekends usher larger crowds and by the second Saturday I’ve had enough. In between all the Mexican music, a too-fast version of I Think We’re Alone Now shakes our windows every night, and their trash piling up behind the circus tent faces us.
Sunday morning comes and goes, we arrive home from church, and I fling open the side door for fresh air. And there it is, next to the other tent flap. About 15 feet from our water tank, pointing toward me without a clue:
A long… white… thigh.
Just one. And just the backside. Praise Jesus for the backside.
(This is where you thank me for not having a picture.)
Like a middle school boy in front of his first Doritos commercial, I don’t know where to look. I mean I do, but it’s awkward. I feel a strange need to confirm what I saw.
Is that the side of the comedian’s thigh?
Why is he standing there with his pants around his ankles?
What is he reading?
Why am I still looking?
Wait—why is a five-gallon bucket at his heels, and why—.
This quickly goes from shocking and kinda funny to sad and inhumane.
Don’t tell the boys; their current state of humor will take over and they won’t see the lesson here.
This is not our normal. These performers live like vagabonds everyday. Not your common hipster-wanna-be-vagabonds. Real traveling homeless people, cooking over fires, sleeping in the container that becomes their stage, and hoping locals will pay .60 cents to watch them for 90 minutes.
We take dignity for granted on this side of the fence.
And then… they leave.
I did not get around to taking them ice. I did not seek them out to make conversation. I did not offer the little boy to play in our yard with our boys. And I for sure did not tell them about Jesus.
Was that a test, Lord? Ten days of one obnoxious thing after the other? Ten days of conveniently avoiding humans who don’t look, act, talk, or smell like me? Ten days of excuses?
Jesus hung out with the poor, the outcasts, and the lonely. I’ve hung out with poor people down the street, homeless people in Santa Cruz and Seattle, and lonely people in suburbia. Why is it so hard to be more like Jesus with the traveling circus in Baja?
And when the next circus comes to town? What will this white girl do? Stick to myself? Stay on my side of the fence where toilets flow effortlessly and five-gallon buckets water dogs?
God’s grace flows thick… and rich… and abundant. And boy do I need it.
Am I prepared for a do-over?
Grow me, Lord.
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers,
for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
~ Hebrew 13:2 (NLT)
Have you ever been stretched beyond your comfort zone to step into an awkward situation?
What do you think God was trying to teach you?
Even the kid who grew up in a country that most Americans knew intimately from TV commercial (thanks Sally Struthers), never had the experiences you and your family have experienced and continue to experience.
Oh my… I forgot about her! Yes, there’s always something keeping us on our toes. Ha ha. We are thankful to live here, despite the occasional inconveniences and craziness.