A long time ago in a place far away an exceptional human became my friend. Arlene Powers has an infectious passion for living. We met when she picked me from a temp pool to work for her team of professionals. Months later we moved into different departments and then eventually left the Company, but God had glued us together forever.
I don’t recall why we both call each other Bert – it simply works for us. Though she never named it, I suspect Bert recognized I was not your average Accelerati Incredebilis. Though always strong, stable, and focused, she too was familiar with trauma.
Bert recognized the performing artist in me. She spotted the clown in me and gradually coaxed her out into the open. Regardless of my issues, she loved and respected me even when doing so was challenging. In our professional circles fractures were our secret.
Clowning was a different kind of performing art I’d ever done. Demanding far more work and commitment than I ever imagined myself getting into, but Bert was an exceptional friend – so I came to love it too.
But not like Bert did. As she typically accomplishes everything she sets her mind to, she designed and hand crafted the most stunningly, beautiful costumes for herself, her daughter and other clowns. Each one unique with lots of hidden pockets and props, they were works of fine, living art. Bert took the art of clowning to a higher level, mastering the craft and then collaborating for books about clowning, costuming and ballooning.
She is truly the Bertimus Maximus. The title probably only means something to those within the Beenie Sub-Troupe, but audiences and charities throughout the Southwest enjoyed her talents for years.
With Bert’s coaxing and coaching I went to clown camp, training, developed and copyrighted my face and costume, created props, helped develop skits and routines both solo and with other clowns. Add pantomime, juggling, face painting techniques and balloon art, we were your basic, all-purpose clowns.
Learning to juggle, focusing upon only one thing, was difficult for me. For weeks Bert taught and coached me along patiently, employing an allegory that became my mantra:
A man weighing 190 pounds had to cross a bridge carrying three five-pound boxes. The bridge could hold no more than 200 pounds.
How did the man get all the boxes across in only one trip?
The answer of course, he juggled them.
For me the allegory was a life changer:
The bridge is life. The boxes are our struggles, emotions and griefs. The only way across the bridge is to juggle the boxes. We can keep them all within our purview, but we must concentrate on catching each one as it drops.
Though Bert saw what I couldn’t, I’ll never forget the look on my teacher-Bert’s face as I added a third, and then fourth Hackey Sacks to my routine. She radiated the joy of accomplishment for us both.
I imagine that’s how God sees us; laughing with us when we’re just plain silly, and practicing our way through our challenges. Bert also coached me as I juggled my gushing thoughts and overwhelming feelings.
I gave up the Hackey Sacks, Nerf balls and rubber pet fish, but juggling became my personal foundational skill. While I occasionally drop some of my stuff along my way, I learned to keep the boxes moving.
I’m frequently thankful most people can’t see feelings and confusion, but Bert can.
Though I stopped performing publicly after a couple of years, Annie Roo became the biggest part of me. Over the years I became grAnnie Roo to my nieces and grandchildren. Bert remains the Bertimus Maximus and still creates beautiful art, mostly of birds and donates all proceeds to bird sanctuaries. She’ll tell you she’s just doing important Bert things.
I have a living example of God’s delight in me, illustrated in Bert’s face as I jump the next hurdle, master the next challenge.
To my eternal friend, Arleenie “Bert” Beenie.
“The Lord hears his people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:17, 18 (NLT)