Stretching Yourself and Creating Smiles

Clowning Around

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~Neale Walsh

Have you ever thought about doing something way out there—and then done it?

I became intrigued with Patch Adams and his philosophy of medicine and healing after seeing the movie about him, starring Robin Williams.

This came on the heels of my daughter Nava’s miraculous survival and full recovery from a medical crisis that involved a year-long hospitalization. As her mother, I felt a renewed sense of life. Or, as I like to refer to it: I truly felt I had received a second lease on life.

I was clearly looking to do something meaningful in gratitude for my family’s miracle.

I found out that Patch Adams led clowning trips to different countries, visiting hospitals, orphanages, and hospices. This certainly sounded like something exciting and unique, and it connected with my recent experience with hospitals and illness.

It was a real way to give back. Thankfully, it didn’t take much to get my husband on board.

There were two criteria: pay your own way and be silly. No professional clowning experience needed. We were in.

I must admit I was a bit nervous about the silly part. I can be very silly but not in an extroverted way. I’m more of a shy silly.

We started getting revved up by looking at costumes online. I wanted something colorful, as I love colors, and a bright orange M&M struck Alan’s fancy. We were ready.

Clowns have always intrigued me. You can be one person inside and another outside. It’s transformation.

In the airport in Rome, we transformed. We went into the bathroom as ourselves and came out as bright-colored clowns. Suddenly, there was a stream of little followers tagging along as we walked over to the waiting area. And thus it began.

It continued to the squares of Sicily, where we’d pull people in to dance, walk into hospital rooms and greet patients, shoot water guns and bubble guns at doctors and nurses, and quietly tiptoe through hospice units, poking our heads in to see if we were welcome.

All this tested my inhibitions, but I did it all (except balloon making). I must say I was most comfortable sitting and talking to patients. Just walking in wearing a costume put smiles on everyone’s faces. It was truly an awesome experience.

This hasn’t become my new profession, but I have taken some of who I become in costume and incorporated it into my daily life.

For me, being more silly is a plus. I am proud of myself for attempting a completely different role and for doing it. It has given me the courage to try my hand at other new adventures and endeavors.

We now don our costumes and go to my dad’s assisted living facility where we clown for the residents. It takes so little to make the elderly smile. I step out of my comfort zone each time I do this, and boy, is it worth it.

What would you like to do that would be a stretch?

It might be a little less intimidating if you just take one simple step toward it. Don’t think about it as something big and overwhelming. Just start by being a little silly. You might surprise yourself with how easy it is to slip into a new role when you take yourself a little less seriously.

Photo by Jesslee Cuizon

About Harriet Cabelly

Harriet Cabelly is a social worker, certified positive psychology coach, and life coach emphasizing living life to its fullest and creating a good life out of (or despite) adversity. Read more about her at Rebuild Your Life Coach and read the latest from her blog.

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  • Fiona Lundy

    This was a brilliant article, inspiring, thought provoking and made me smile! Bringing a tear and a smile to the eye is a true gift! Thank you!

    This was beautifully written and I’m so pleased I got to read it! I think perhaps some more silly-ness might be perfect for me at the moment. Thank you for sharing your story,xxx

  • Jennifer

    Wow, that’s awesome! And very inspiring… I’ve been thinking alot lately about teaching my kids the value of giving back. While I don’t think being a clown is for me, I could definately bring some of that attitude into the soup kitchen – make it a little more fun.

  • Kim


    I really feel that you should watch this video of the real Patch Adams, giving such an inspiring talk:

    What an amazing person: wanting to spread love, joy, happiness, laughter, to make a positive change in the health care system and genuinely CARE for patients. 🙂

    At 3:36 and 9:14 of the Youtube link, Patch says for 40 years he has paid to be a doctor, no donations were made to support the Gesundheidt! institute (and he says he says that with no sense of sacrifice; he says it is worth it, to practice care)….40 years on from founding the institute, it has STILL not been entirely constructed…

    At 15:18 he says he “owns nothing, has no safety net, no life insurance or health insurance, I literally have no property, everything I make goes directly to our work – and I feel like the richest person on the planet”. He is such a compassionate, humble, selfless, intelligent (listen to what he says at 4:50 – so true) and dedicated man…do a bit more research on him, you’ll see what a remarkable person he is.

    You should definitely use a quote from Patch on the front page of TinyBuddha sometime!! That quote in the last paragraph about having nothing, but feeling like the richest person on the planet is particularly inspiring 🙂

  • Kim

    @Lori…I have found more lovely quotes from Patch:

    “We will not call it a dream, but will live it as a reality.”

    “Health is based on happiness-from hugging and clowning around to finding joy in family and friends, satisfaction in work, and ecstasy in nature and the arts. ”

    And here’s a nice list from his website of “Patch’s Prescriptions”:
    1. The world’s richest 360 people have the same amount of money as the poorest 2.4 billion people.
    2. The most revolutionary act you can commit in today’s society is to be publicly happy.
    3. “When it’s all over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.” — Mary Oliver
    4. “You have to let the small animal of your body love what it loves.” — Mary Oliver
    5. “Life is trouble only death is not, to be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” — Kazantzakis
    6. “To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.” — Shakespeare
    7. “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun; you find that fun and snap, the job’s a game.” — Mary Poppins
    8. “Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.” — Albert Einstein
    9. “Life doesn’t cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” — G.B. Shaw
    10. With passion, anything is possible.


  • Thanks Jennifer for your lovely words. Whatever resonates for you is what you can step into. Making “the value of giving back” enjoyable and fun is a wonderful goal for kids. It will hopefully give them the intrinsic reward of feeling good at doing meaningful and generous acts.

  • Fiona, I love that – “bringing a tear and a smile to the eye is a true gift.” It certainly is. It’s a win-win. It also expands our giving capacity as we elicit that response in others.
    Thank you for your flattering words.

  • Thanks for all the info on Patch Adams. I see you’re quite inspired by his words.

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  • Very inspiring! I love articles like this, it is very worthy to read. I hope it will touch the hearts of many as it did to me. 

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