When I knew Patch Adams was returning to Findhorn, I watched the movie and was inspired by the powerful force of nature of this man. In the flesh, Patch is awesome. A perpetual clown, he wears crazy clothes and carries the tools of his trade in bottomless pockets, half his long grey hair is dyed blue and his fork earring clatters against the microphone cable, sounding like a buddhist mindfulness bell, especially when he becomes animated. “I love people! I dress this way so that they cannot resist starting a conversation!”
However, this clown is no fool. As the day unfolds I am delighted, humbled and enthralled by his forthrightness, his humour, his courage, his well-read intelligence, but most of all by his capacity to care unconditionally for the plight of all people, everywhere. “I am a visionary for a new humanity of compassion and honesty. I am a political activist. I want a world where no-one alive can remember what the word war means.”
He begins the day telling us his extraordinary life story, significant, as today is his 66th birthday. His father was a military man who died at war when Patch was 16. He was so damaged by the impact of war that he did not know how to play with his children. Patch was given the gift of good memory and an ease of academic learning. Growing up on military bases all over the world as a self confessed nerd could’ve subjected Patch to some bullying, but he soon learnt that if you make the bullies laugh, they don’t hit the fool – and his clown was born. Patch devotes the best qualities in him to his mother. “She was kind, generous, inspiring – a regular undamaged mother, who gave me the gift of curiosity and passion.”
In the 1960s the family moved to southern USA, where the black population had no rights. He realised then that his country and all religions were fake and that he could not be silent. “I did not want to live in a world of violence.” In the last two years of his schooling he was regularly beaten up and his several attempts at suicide took him through three mental hospitalisations.
During his third stay he had his revelation for revolution that has since then, shaped every choice and action of this great man. He calls it a Friendship Revolution, claiming that friendship is his god. “I chose to serve humanity through medicine as it was the only profession open to men, where they could explore the potential of caring.” He also decided from that moment forth, to be ‘disgustingly’ happy all the time. “Happy for me embraces several qualities. Being happy also makes me funny, loving, cooperative, creative, thoughtful and caring.” At 18 he was going to change the world and he began practicing how to connect to and love people. He would call up wrong numbers just to engage with the stranger on the other side of the phone and experiment with people in lifts. He worked on the twinkle in his eye, his ready smile and his willingness to greet people and discovered that everyone is beautiful.
Together with several colleagues, he founded the Gesundheit! Institute with the intention to create a place where medicine was for fun not funds, where the focus was to care and not to cure. Based on the popular commune style of the 1960s it was “A home that is a hospital.” The six bedrooms housed 20 permanent residents for over nine years and saw a regular throng of people from 14 states and 40 countries through its doors. The policy was to provide patients with care free of charge. “Patients were welcome to hang out and contribute to the nature and sanctuary of the hospital.” The commune became a farm, a school and an artists’ colony where play, absurdity, humour and experimentation were encouraged. “We made living funny, we made dying funny.” The only rule was no physical violence. Here all the healing arts were welcomed and health was considered as not only a physical way of being, but a social, economic, political and environmental issue as well. “We did this work for 12 years and it was thrilling to care for people.”
The Gesundheit! Institute closed its doors when they chose to go public in order to manifest funds for the dream to build a modern style hospital also designed as a communal ecovillage, using the experience and teachings of Gesundheit!. Since then, Patch has been a world traveler, on the road for approximately 300 days a year. Visiting 500 communities, he raises funds to develop and build this project and explore the global health of human society.
Many projects have been birthed over the years. Most significant are the Clown Trips, where Patch takes a diverse cross section of dedicated people, no training necessary, to the areas where there is the most suffering, to meet and enliven the hearts of the most diseased, abused, impoverished, abandoned and traumatised people on the planet. “I want to go to the worst suffering and love it.” He has taken these clowning trips to suicidal children, drug addicts and soldiers. “I’ve seen a huge amount of hell but I take the same spirit to the businessman in London as I do to the impoverished children – it feeds me to give care to everyone, everywhere.” He describes the use of clowning in this way as ‘public health stimulation’.
“Be proactive about loving!” Patch encourages us. We all need food and friendship. “We all have two states: we are either living or dead. Death is not important, it is inevitable. What matters is how we live!” He continues to move out into the world teaching the love of all people. “Love is not only a feeling, it is an intelligence!”
When asked how he maintains his faith and vigour Patch replies with poetic grace: “At 18 I dove into the ocean of gratitude and have never found the shore.” It is indeed a blessing and an honour to be swimming around with such a seasoned athlete of love and laughter. We celebrate his birthday in style, fooling around in the biggest underpants in the world, dancing with balloons, dressing up in outrageous costumes. His vibrant spirit is contagious and we are at play with each other, embracing the beauty and miraculous gift of life shining in the ignited sparkle in our eyes.