I catch myself fidgeting nervously as I sit among my new friends at the “Fraidy-Cats Anonymous” meeting. One by one, they tell their stories, describing how they’re deathly afraid of spiders, tornadoes, black cats, etc.
Then it’s my turn, and all eyes fall on me. I swallow hard. “My name is John Mark,” I begin timidly, “and I’m a Fraidy-Cat. I’ll own up to it! I have a deep, irrational fear of clowns. They’re creepy, and while I know they’re supposed to help cheer up the world, I can’t help but absolutely despise them.”
The group starts to laugh, but I hold my ground. “Hold on, now… I have a good reason for my Coulrophobia! Here’s my story…”
I wasn’t always this way. I used to think clowns were fun! But when I was seven years old, my parents went on church visitation while one of the deacon’s daughters watched my siblings and I. As soon as my parents drove off to share God’s love with the community, the deacon’s daughter turned to us confidentially.
“Who wants to eat a whole cereal bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup and watch a show about a killer clown?”
Well, come on…. what kid’s gonna turn down that offer?
She sat us down (my brother was six, and my sister was five), and let us feast our eyes on Stephen King’s IT. For those of you who haven’t seen it, consider yourselves fortunate, and here’s a quick rundown on the film:
1.) A man dressed in a clown suit lives in the sewer beneath the innocent little town of Dairy, Maine.
2.) The man uses candy and balloons to entice kids toward the sewer drains, and when they get too close, he attacks them with razor sharp teeth and kills them in cold blood.
3.) A few kids know about the clown, but none of the adults believe them. Finally, they head into the sewers themselves to face this killer on their own.
Let’s just say that none of us slept that night, or any night for weeks afterwards! For the next several months my brother refused to sit on the toilet or take a bath unless I went and sat in the restroom with him, and we all developed the compulsion to close the sink drains every time we passed by. At church they let me collect the offering and take it to a back room, and I can still remember walking through the dark church hallways and being afraid to walk past the restrooms.
You’d think I would have gotten over my “clown fear” over the years, but it never quite went away. And in a sick twist of fate, my college roomate’s mother turned out to be a professional clown. One year for my birthday he decided to play a prank on me, and his mom showed up at my job in full clown attire. My roommate and his girlfriend laughed in delight as the freakish clown made me a “birthday pie” of shaving cream and slapped it onto my face and honked her little rubber car horn in my face. I knew I was supposed to laugh, but the whole thing just made my skin crawl. Now that I think about it, I never really got my roommate back for that, either (adding to my bucket list… done).
To this day I feel a nervous chill when my kids ask to take a picture with Ronald McDonald (who, for the record, is one of the creepiest looking clowns I’ve ever seen!).
But my clown phobia hasn’t been all bad. For several long months I had a recurring nightmare that I was trapped in a dark sewer, and a terrifying clown was walking towards me in slow motion. In the dream, I was always paralyzed, and though I tried to scream no sound would come out. I usually woke up just as the clown grabbed my shoulder, but one night the dream lasted longer. I actually fought the clown, and defeated him! As soon as this happened, the recurring nightmares faded away.
So in a way, this traumatizing childhood experience taught me to stand up to my fears. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that feeling fear doesn’t make you weak… it simply makes you human. As a great man once said:
“Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
And of course, I’ve discovered that I can trust God to help me with any challenge or fear – including clowns!
“The LORD is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1
How Do You Feel About Clowns? Fun or Creepy?
Writing 101 Day 17 Challenge: We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.