“Why are you sad?” a woman in the crowd asked near the beginning of the Saddest Parade on Earth. About 16 of us had joined in the Fourth of July Horribles Parade in Gloucester on the evening of July 3. I replied that a place I’d worked had gone out of business, also a death in the family. “Would you like a hug?” she offered.
The Saddest Parade on Earth grew out burnout and sadness I’ve been struggling with since the economy crashed around the same time my first son was born. Like many other Americans, I’ve found it to be a time of high anxiety. I’ve been working three or four regular jobs to make ends meet. And one of those jobs—the Boston Phoenix, which I loved—went out of business. During these years, a sister-in-law died from breast cancer after refusing to get treated until it was too late because mental illness scared her of doctors. Part of my family fought over how to help a relative who’d lost his job because of alcoholism. Another member of the extended family, who was living in my two-family house, tried to kill herself last summer. Of course, I’m actually a pretty fortunate guy. Plenty of people—including folks in my extended family—have it worse in our time of wars and economic depression.
At any rate, the bad feelings started seeping into my drawings. They became a funny, cute forest of raining/crying trees. And when I hit on the idea of The Saddest Parade on Earth it was like finding destiny. It was a way to publicly talk about how so many of us are struggling with sadness. And to mock it, tease it, as a way to maybe exorcise a bit of it.
When I organized the first Saddest Parade on Earth in Beverly, Massachusetts, in March, having friends and strangers join me in that procession was very heartening. And the whole thing is intentionally funny—it cracks me up. I’ve made some changes in my life since then. So I’m feeling somewhat better. And doing it again brings a smile to my face.
And it continues to warm my heart—to be healing—to have friends join me in these shenanigans. A big thank you here to the folks who participated Thursday evening: Kari Percival, Jessica Finch, KT Toomey, James Cook, Jane Cunningham, Jo-Ann Castano, Susan Erony, Laurel Kirtz, Sam, Abby, Evan, Jasper, Ulysses, Rochelle, Nick and Katie.
In Gloucester, the Saddest Parade was a bit different because it was part of the larger city Horribles Parade. Jessica offered tissues to people in the crowd that lined the streets of the long, long route. “Why are you sad?” people would shout. I’d say crappy economy, place I worked closed, death in the family. Laurel told people that her house had been foreclosed on and she lost her job. And this, of course, weirded people out.
Some folks got it and joked, “Oh, yeah, but besides that.” Some people shouted, “Focus on the good. Be happy.” They seemed offended by us inserting sadness into the parade.
Many people took it as a critique of the whole parade—which wasn’t my intent—but was a reasonable (mis)reading of the “Saddest Parade on Earth” sign. “It’s a great parade!” they’d shout.
In certain stretches, the crowd got grim. It felt like our message of sadness was perhaps too close to home. Peopled looked unhappy, maybe threatening even. Of course, everyone had also enjoyed more beverages by that point.
But throughout the parade, there were also people who cheered and gave thumbs up, folks who agreed that, yeah, it’s been hard. And there were people who offered hugs.