Once there was a little clown named Chuckles who liked to laugh and tell jokes all the time. He was very silly and everyone liked him because he made them laugh, and everyone loved to laugh. He even had a bright red nose that he wore with pride.
Eventually, the day came when the clown looked at the bills piling up on his dining table, and he decided it was time to get a job. He looked in the Help Wanted ads for clown jobs, but those positions were already taken by clowns with much more experience. He saw lots of ads for accountants and truck drivers, but very few for joke-tellers and entertainers.
When the bills could wait no longer, he took a job as a clerk at a big corporation. They put him in a cubicle and made him add numbers up all day. He was not allowed to wear his red nose to work, but secretly he told himself jokes while he was working, and when coffee break came, he was the one making everyone laugh in the lunch room.
A year went by, and Chuckles found himself in the same job. Although he still liked to tell jokes, he shortened his name to Chuck so he could fit in better, and he kept his nose in a drawer at home most of the time.
Soon he found himself becoming very serious. He didn’t notice at first, but the demands of the job made him think seriously a lot more than he was used to.
Other things happened that made him think seriously. There was a big tsunami in the Pacific that killed 100,000 people. He got dumped by his girlfriend. He had arguments with people at work. There were wars in the Middle East. And then there was a big recession that left a lot of people without work, and afraid for their futures.
Chuck felt very sad about all these things. He experienced many other emotions as well, such as anger, frustration, disappointment, fear and loneliness. He started to realize why not everyone laughed at all his jokes. He started to understand how non-clowns thought of the world. He felt sorry for them.
He wanted to do something about the world’s problems, but he didn’t know how. So he kept working and paying his bills and he did the best he could with what he had.
One day he went to get his bright red nose out of the drawer so he could wear it to a party. But the nose was not there! He searched everywhere, but the more he looked, the more he could not find it. He had to go to the party without the nose. He didn’t have a very good time.
Chuck never did find his nose that day, or the next day, or the day after that. He became more serious. He worked hard. He started avoiding parties and he wrote dark poetry and watched the 6:00 news with a feeling of anger about all the injustice in the world.
One day, Chuck had had enough of all the pain and despair. He decided to go on a Quest to find the answer to all the world’s problems.
He started with the local library. He checked out a hundred books that all claimed to have answers to all the world’s problems, and when he got to the end of those, he checked out another hundred books. It took him a long time to read all the books. He also attended seminars and workshops that also claimed to have all the answers. He thought long and hard about all the answers, and he started putting them together in his head, and he tried to practice some of what he had learned. He started to feel a little better. It got easier to get through the day. He met some nice people and started to go out more again.
But he knew his quest was far from over. Even though he was a little happier, and his relationships improved, he felt a hole in his heart that would not go away. He knew that this hole was somehow connected to all the problems in the world, and if he could fill the hole, he could help others fill the holes in their lives.
One day he got a mysterious phone call. The caller was an old man who seemed to know everything about Chuck and his quest. He instructed Chuck to go to a certain special mountain in a far-away desert. There, he would find the answer to the world’s problems.
Chuck was nervous about the trip, but he knew he had to go. He researched the location and made travel arrangements. A few weeks later, he was on a plane.
Once in the hotel in that far-away place, he could hardly sleep, he was so curious about what he would find. Would it be a mountain of gold that he could use to buy food for the hungry and houses for the homeless? Would it be a World Peace for Dummies book? Perhaps an elixir that would cure any illness and make people happy? What could it possibly be?
The next morning at dawn, he picked up his rental car and drove out over the desert highway to find the mountain. He could see it a long way off. It took him two hours to drive to the mountain. At the end of the road, he found a sign that read, “No vehicles past this point.” So he collected his backpack with food and water, and set off up the mountain trail.
Only five minutes up the trail, he encountered a gatehouse. The gatekeeper came out and stopped Chuck. “No packs on the trail,” he said.
“This is my food and water,” replied Chuck. “I need it to survive.”
“Don’t worry about that,” replied the gatekeeper with a smile. “Your survival will be looked after. But you cannot take baggage with you on the path. You have to leave your baggage here.”
Somehow, Chuck knew he could trust the gatekeeper, so he laid his pack down and continued on the path.
An hour later, just as he was becoming quite thirsty, he found a stream, with cool, clean water. He sat and drank from the stream for a few minutes, and when he was rested, he continued on his way.
Another hour later, he started feeling quite hungry, tired and weak. Just then, a man came down the mountain path with sandwiches and fruit. He stopped and shared a lunch with Chuck. Chuck was very grateful, and asked how he could repay the man, but the man replied, “Just get to the top and find the answer, and then everything will be all right.”
Another hour later, in the early afternoon, he came to a fork in the path. There was no sign. He didn’t know which way to go. Just then, a girl came down the right-hand path singing a song. She stopped and greeted Chuck with a smile. “This is the path you want!” she told him, and continued on her way.
The suspense was really getting to Chuck. He didn’t know how far it would be or what he would find when he got there. Just then, a grey-haired lady came down the path with a big smile on her face. She was carrying an apple pie.
The lady stopped and sat down with Chuck to share some pie. It was one of the best apple pies that Chuck had ever tasted. His curiosity growing, Chuck asked the lady what she had found at the top of the mountain.
“Why, this pie, of course!” she replied.
Chuck’s heart fell. “Pie? The answer to all the world’s problems is pie??”
The lady laughed. “You’ll see!” she said with a wink, and then continued on her way.
A bit further up the path, he came upon a young man carrying a wrench. Chuck stopped him and asked him what he had found at the top of the mountain. “Why, this wrench, of course!” he replied.
Again, Chuck’s heart fell. “A wrench? How can that be the answer?”
The young man laughed. “You’ll see,” he said with a wink, and continued on his way.
Further up the path, as the afternoon sun beat down on him and sweat poured down his back, he encountered a young Asian woman coming down the path. She seemed quite happy. He asked her what she had found up there, but she was completely silent, and replied only with a smile and a little bow, and continued on her way.
Finally, just when Chuck felt his strength giving out, he found another stream, and stopped to drink and rest. When he looked around, he saw that the stream was coming from inside a cave. There was also a light coming from inside the cave. He went inside to investigate.
There, inside the cave, was an old guru, dressed in a robe, with a long grey beard. There were cupboards lining the cave walls, and a little fire in the middle, providing light and warmth inside the cool darkness of the cave. A small table was set out with tea and refreshments.
“Well, hello there, Chuckles,” the old guru said with a bright-eyed grin. It was the voice from the phone call! And sure enough, there was a phone by the man’s side, with a list of numbers to call.
“Nobody has called me Chuckles in a long time,” Chuck replied. He sat down and immediately felt at home in the cave.
“Pity,” said the old guru, offering him a plate of biscuits. “But then, that is why you are here, is it not?”
“I’m here to find the answer to the pain of the world, and my own pain. But all I’ve found is this cave, and smiling people coming out of it with pies and wrenches. It makes no sense.”
The guru laughed. “It doesn’t always make sense to our heads,” he said. “Because our heads are too little to find the answer. You must find the answer with your heart. And sometimes, that can take a long time.”
“Then is the answer here or isn’t it?” Chuck asked, worried that his trip may have been in vain.
“Yes,” said the guru. “Yes, it’s here and it isn’t.”
Chuck just stared at the man.
Then the guru got up and went to a cabinet. He ran his finger over a series of drawers, until he found the one he was looking for. “Tell me,” he said at last, “Who are you and what do you do?”
“My name is Chuck and I’m a clerk for a big corporation,” he responded.
“No you are not!!” the guru barked with a voice louder than Chuck thought possible.
Startled, Chuck asked him, “Then, who do you think I am?”
The old guru pulled open the drawer, and said, “The answer is in here.” And with that, the old man pulled out a bright red nose – the very nose that Chuck had lost so long ago.
“Here you go, Chuckles – here is the answer.”
Inside his heart, Chuckles could feel something suddenly growing very big. His head was telling him, “This is ridiculous! This isn’t the answer! The answer should be serious!” But in his heart, he knew this was it. He didn’t know why he knew – he just knew.
“The answer,” the guru continued, “is not in what you do – it’s in who you are. When you find who you truly are, then the answer of what to do will come to you – as sure as the nose on your face!” Then the guru stuck the bright red clown nose right where it belonged.
Suddenly a laugh escaped Chuck’s lips. And he knew he wasn’t Chuck any more – he was Chuckles, the Clown!
“I’m so sorry I wasted all those years of unhappiness,” Chuckles told his new friend. “But I’m so glad I found my nose again, so I can go back to who I was!”
The guru laughed, too. “Oh, but it wasn’t a waste, and you will never go back to who you were!” he said. “You see, those years of heartache were necessary for you to learn compassion for other people in the same condition. If you had stayed a clown, and never experienced anything else, your understanding would be limited. Through your experiences, you learned to feel so much more.
“And now, you can live as the clown who understands what it feels like to be human.”
Chuckles laughed with joy as he pictured the life ahead of him. He knew that there would still be problems, but he also knew he could find his way through them. He just had to follow his nose!
Then a question popped into his head: “Guru, why did I have to come all this way to find something that I had lost at home?”
The guru grinned. “Because if the answer had been easy to get to, you never would have believed it!”
Returning down the path, he was able to help others the way he had been helped. A couple people looked at him the same way he had looked at the man with the wrench – with worry that the answer would be too small to help. After all, what could someone with a red nose or a wrench or a pie do to solve all the world’s problems?
But he knew, as sure as the nose on his face, what the stream of people up and down the mountain had taught him: that it’s not just the wrench or just the red nose that solves the world’s problems, because there is no one solution. The answer was found in the great diversity of people all doing what they were born to do: to fix machines, to feed people, to build things, to help people think, feel and laugh.
Chuckles went on to help a lot of people laugh – and to feel. And because he understood their frustration, loneliness, despair and anger, he was able to bring laughter and light right into the heart of real life – not avoiding the pain, but dancing in the middle of it.