I have spent countless hours on airplanes sitting within inches of other people and never even looked at them, much less struck up a conversation. This is often followed by several hours in an airport surrounded by thousands of other people who I totally ignore.
A few weeks ago I went with my fellow Rubber City Jugglers to Cleveland Stadium and performed for the opening day baseball crowd. I talked and joked with every stranger who appeared to be even remotely interested in me. I spent an hour looking for people to share my company and mutually enjoy just being somewhere together.
If I did not continuously inhabit my own body, I would wonder if the traveler and the juggler were the same person.
I feel that the act of juggling is just as transforming to many other people. And the vast majority of them are men.
The International Jugglers' Association is equally accessible to men and women, yet the membership doesn't reflect that. There must be something about juggling that is more likely to appeal to men, and the only reasonable place to look for an answer is in the male psyche.
During the past decade there has emerged a movement in the psychological community that emphasizes an examination of the unique problems inherent to the males in our society. A recurrent contention among the experts in this movement is that men view other men, first and foremost, with fear. The origins of this fear are varied, but its manifestations are evident in persistent competition, mistrust and, commonly, a nearly complete absence of authentic male-to-male friendship. That is, friendship that extends beyond superficiality and plumbs our emotional depths.
Predictably, these feelings of fear will either produce a man who displays the macho mask or the sullen indifference to spontaneity and emotion that are so commonly seen in our society. Sensations of estrangement increase as time passes, and the consequences of this fear that men do not (or cannot) acknowledge are evident in our lives. And, if we think about it, they are evident in the lives of our fathers.
I find it significant that two remarkably successful films this past year, "Field of Dreams" and "Dead Poet's Society," emphasize the possible consequences of emotional expression between men and across generations of men. Our world is hungry for this and Hollywood responds.
Where does juggling fit in? Well, for me personally, it is the opportunity to express the "playful child" within. This personality lies somewhere in all of us, and it is characterized by authentic expressions of friendship, spontaneity, joy and, most of all, fearlessness. Given the chance to feel all of this, what man would not jump at it? If women do not share our fear, they will not feel the thrill of its release. I think men juggle because they have to; women do not need it.
If I could allow more of my juggler to emerge without the props in my grip, I might one day travel with less fear and less loneliness. I need to let more of the juggler into my life. Perhaps we all do.
(Barrett Dorko is a physical therapist and member of the Rubber City Jugglers in Akron, Ohio.)