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The Warmth of the Unlikely

IT's kind of comedy, but it's not found in the theater. It has nothing to do with parody, nor with lewdness, nor yet with genteel wit. It's the product of a lifestyle that lets you feel enriched - rather than shaken - by surprise.

Comedy as the product of a lifestyle?

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I'm moving on thin ice here, considering that each day we're being made more familiar with what's going wrong in the world than with what's going right in it. There are some of us who have stood aghast so long at what has happened around us that we may be afraid to laugh wholeheartedly any more. Or if we're not tempted to view such laughter as distasteful and irresponsible, on the other hand, we may be inclined to regard it somewhat self-consciously as therapy!

But offstage and outside urban propriety, we're looking at something rather different. I have life, not entertainment, in mind. I've discovered that the complexities of the 1990s can be resolved in simple, if extraordinary, ways - once the lovely and the funny are allowed to meet in our living. This is something superseding mere situational humor. When the lovely and the funny come together, the result is a lifting above the cliche of familiarity into what I like to think of as the warmth of the unlikely .

I hasten to illustrate. I have a friend who lives in a United States mail delivery van. It's a model manufactured in the early '70s, equipped with a right-hand drive and lots of space, which this remarkable woman has transformed into a home on wheels. She has painted the vehicle light blue and inscribed the words "God is love" on one side in bold yellow letters.

I should mention that she has one inseparable disciple - a parrot who is now almost her equal in exuberance and communicativeness. The parrot's name is Moji.

Once an actress and university voice teacher, my friend became disenchanted with certain aspects of contemporary drama and stepped out of the academic world. She then began serving her community as nanny, gardener, and consultant to the elderly.

It was in this new lifestyle that experience frequently bred surprise. For the progression from living simply to living beautifully must sooner or later move through a higher dimension of comedy.

Here's a glimpse of what I mean. One day, on her way to a client, our friend was waiting in her van at a red light when a stranger leapt from the car at her side, having read the large yellow letters on her resplendent vehicle.

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"Will you pray for me?" he called up to her urgently. "Yes, I will," she smiled down at him. He leapt back into his car just as the light turned green. The juxtaposing of the bizarre with the beautiful is a recurring feature of this woman's experience.

Most recently, to fulfill her simple financial needs, my friend has been mowing the grass in a cemetery. On one occasion, she informed me, she drove her "lovemobile" to her new job with Moji aboard. The parrot was particularly jubilant en route, as if anticipating something unusual.

On arrival, having parked her van, she took Moji's cage and hung it on the branch of a churchyard yew. Then she located the mower, started it up, and set about her employment. The early afternoon air breathed through the parrot's feathers, and, as the voices of the sparrows and robins reached her, Moji's delight knew no bounds.

In the meantime, the gardener was distancing herself from the cage with each passage of the mower. Back and forth she walked for two hours or more, lost in her endless mowing as she listened tirelessly through her headset to the music of Vivaldi and Haydn.

Then it happened. An elderly woman entered the churchyard with flowers. She knelt by one of the graves, grieving in silence. Suddenly a voice came to her from a few feet away: "Hello-oo!" Startled, the woman looked up. No one was there. She stood up and looked around her. Again, the greeting came to her louder and more insistently: "HELLOO-OO!"

For a brief moment, the poor woman glanced frantically at the graves about her and swung around in a circle once more to see where the voice was coming from. "Hi, guys! Ahem, ahem!" From that yew tree behind her? Then she noticed Moji for the first time: The bird was hanging upside down from the roof of her cage, anxious to make a new friend.

A parrot alone in a cemetery? Incredulous and burning with curiosity, the mourner stepped closer to the tree. Without warning - "HA-HA-HA-HA! HA-HA-HA-HA!" - Moji's laughter pealed out over the tombstones.

A moment later, the woman herself was laughing uncontrollably. From the other end of the cemetery, my inimitable friend heard the uproar and walked back to the yew.

The senior citizen stood there by the cage - her face flushed, her grief forgotten. The two women struck up a conversation immediately, punctuated by laugh after laugh as Moji's unquenchable mirth kept upstaging them.

There they were, the two women and the bird, with deep-throated laughter the only real communication between them. Once more, the lovely and the funny were coming together within that special warmth of the unlikely.

The extraordinary always awaits fresh discovery.

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