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The Night the Sideshow was Bought

Freaks are souls in search of image. At conversion, Christ gives a mirror for a look at our new selves.

Myron/Myra, the gender freak, was confused about who he/she was. All the others in the freak show were also confused about themselves. Iva Gillette, the bearded lady, admitted, from the very day she joined the circus, that she had been unable to see herself as anything other than a freak. The word freak bothered Myron/Myra as much as it did Iva Gillette. Philip-Fido, the dog-faced boy, agreed. So did Thumbelina and the Fat Man.

The whole crew had been drawn into a common need for each other by terrible, low self-esteem and the fact that they had sold themselves to be the slaves of a tyrannical owner. They were the ugly and the damned, making a life out of being too fat or too little or too deformed. They had all endured years of being gawked at, laughed at, ogled, and despised.

None of them will ever forget the Thursday when their world seemed to perish. It was Thumbelina whose tiny voice broke into their odd gathering: "The circus is sold!"

"Who owns us now?" asked Philip-Fido.

"What difference does it make? We're all a bunch of freaks!" The Fat Man, consumed with self-pity, began to shake all over with sobs. His immense body rolled like a mountain under siege of a grievous earthquake. "Freaks, freaks, freaks ...." His voice trailed off.

Iva Gillette stroked her beard, then shook her head and sat silent.

"Who owns us now?" Again, Philip-Fido asked the same question.

"I bought the circus," said a voice belonging to the new owner, who had walked suddenly into their conversation.

The new owner seemed kind, and the bearded lady smiled. "I was afraid our new owner would be just like the last one." Iva Gillette, like the Fat Man, began to weep. "I wish my beard was pulled out."

"Mine was once," said the new owner.

"Who are you, and what do you know of being glowered at, laughed at, pointed at?" asked Myron/Myra. "Our last owner forced me to take off my clothes every night so the ticket holders could laugh at me."

"I was once naked and laughed at," said the new owner.

They sat, silent.

"I bought this sideshow so I could set you free," said the owner. "I bought you - all of you are free."

"Free?" said Thumbelina in tiny-voiced contempt. "You are tall; I am small," said Thumbelina. "I don't want to hear anyone tall tell me of freedom!"

"Small is but a state of heart that afflicts those who have accepted too much of this world's harsh opinion. Tall is getting the true view of yourself. Trust me, you can be free. Indeed, you shall be free!"

"Free?" sneered the Fat Man.

"Free?" laughed Myron/Myra.

The new owner walked over to the Fat Man and handed him a mirror. "Look in this glass, and you will see yourself for the first time." The Fat Man looked. His face stole into a smile. He didn't see fat - he saw virtue, loyalty, human kindness, and a spontaneous sense of humor. Suddenly his obesity seemed trivial and unworthy of its dehumanizing force.

The new owner drew a second mirror from inside his jacket and handed it to Thumbelina. She, too, gazed fondly into the glass and smiled. "Leave off the 'Thumbe;' I'm 'Lina' now!

He drew a third mirror and held it out to Philip-Fido, and his "dog face" was suddenly alive with light.

"And, which will it be - Myron or Myra?" asked the owner as he handed out yet another glass.

"Well, I've always liked baseball better than soap operas ...," he/she faltered.

"Very well, Myron!" said the owner.

Instantly, Myron ordered Myra back to her daytime television, and she was gone forever. Myron felt like a quarterback after a Rose Bowl touchdown.

Five very normal people, at last, watched as the owner walked away. Near the end of the sideshow tent, he turned, took a Bic lighter, and flicked the flint wheel. Fire jumped from the wick, and he touched it to the canvas tent. He smiled. Amber canvas roared orange against the night.


Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala. Reprinted from An Owner's Manual for the Unfinished Soul by Calvin Miller, from Shaw Publishers.

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June 2000 Edition
Volume 8, Issue 8
June 2000