Faith Factor | Laughing with the clown in Tahoe |

Faith Factor | Laughing with the clown in Tahoe

Russell Richardson
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – One Sunday, standing under a big wooden cross and hoping for someone to show up for Homewood’s two o’clock mountain service, I indulged in some blatant people-watching. As someone who got on skis the first winter I could walk, I tend to snobbishness on the hill: I don’t get why people would set themselves up for a miserable (and abnormally frigid) day by skiing without hat, gloves, glasses/goggles, or wind/waterproof outer layers. It’s five below and you’re skiing in jeans without gloves, hat or goggles? Really? Not to mention it’s train-wreck fascinating to see the skills on display on a resort’s main beginner run on a holiday weekend.

Then I saw a real peach: some dude in a clown suit. He carved an impressively smooth line, but a guy big enough to be middle-aged, skiing alone, in a clown suit? Come on. Please – just ski right on past me like everyone else.

Naturally, he came to a beautifully graceful stop right in front of me, introduced himself, and lit into fervent God-talk. Great: someone who looks old enough to be my grandfather, wearing a clown suit, lighting into impassioned evangelism with me, a complete stranger. But, well, I’m here as the mountain chaplain, so I might as well hold up my end, right? And really, standing on Rainbow Ridge with a panoramic view of Tahoe, Lake of the Sky, reflecting a brilliantly cloudless winter day, it’s easy to experience divine beauty and grace.

That’s about when I got a verbal slap upside the head.

“I can look in the mirror and focus on this wrinkled, gray face,” the overly fervent guy in the clown suit said. “Or I can slap a big red nose on it … (I was somewhat relieved he was wearing goggles and hence no big red nose) … put on a clown suit, and make people smile.”


How dare I judge? How dare I impose my own biases on others’ motives? How wonderful that he looks at a withered old face and turns it into smiles for those around him? How great would it be if we all took such initiative?

– Russell Richardson, MM, MFA, St. Nick’s (Tahoe City) tuba player and publicist