A friend and I were moseying around in a civilized park–acres of lawn, old trees, a pond with ducks, play spaces for kids. I was enjoying it all, casually looking around. Suddenly, “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Is it possible?” I pointed. Over there, it looked very much like a big boa constrictor swaying through the grass. Here? Could it be?
Since neither of us feels the usual revulsion to snakes, we ambled in that direction to see what was what. Sure enough. Two big boas were sidling around on the lawn, seemingly at ease and unconcerned with things around them. Two people were there, too. They turned out to be “walking” the boas which were part of their educational menagerie—they take animals into schools, to give the kids new experience. We had a fine time with all of them—people and boas—in spite of the loud scolding from nearby grackles.
Later, I began to reflect: how do we respond to the incongruous, the thing that doesn’t fit, the totally unexpected? I’m not thinking here about tragedies that completely alter or even destroy people’s lives. I’m wondering about the smaller, but still incongruent, experiences. Like boas in a civilized park.
Comedians say that incongruities and the unexpected give them much of their material. We can agree. Shown to us in certain ways, surprising inconsistencies can give rise to much humor. On the other end of the response continuum, my father exploded in anger if anything surprised him by being out of place.
So, some of us laugh at sudden incongruities. Others don’t. Still others respond with curiosity: “What is thatdoing here?” Investigation usually follows. It can be interesting to discover what our own reactions are. Do we open toward the unexpected with willingness or fascination? Do we instantly shut ourselves down in self-defense, perceiving the unexpected as threat? Do we feel wonder: “Wow—look at that!”
Our instantaneous responses may indicate how we face our daily living in the larger sense. Are we braced for trouble? Do we expect to be thrilled and fascinated by the day’s events?
For me – well, I wouldn’t want to have missed playing, even cautiously, with a boa constrictor for once in my life. And I wonder what I have missed at other times, when caution shut a door.