Hello. My name is John, and I’m “addicted” to irony. No, not “addicted.” I don’t know why I uttered the word with an air quote inflection. Yes, I do. It’s because I’m addicted. To irony. Wow, just saying those words out loud before you is a “relief.” No, not a “relief.” Just a relief. You see, as long as I can remember, I have experienced the world with eyebrow-raised, bemused detachment. And this has helped me experience a rich, full life. No, it hasn’t. Stop it. Even as a child, I retreated behind irony. In class, I would raise my hand in quiet moments, and, when called upon, would say, “First of all, let’s all calm down.” Why would an eight-year-old do this? I was not raised in an ironic household. Whenever someone at the dinner table spilled food I would dramatically cry out “What’s happening to us?” My parents would just stare at me, mystified.
Should I go on? By junior high school my ironic tendencies were firmly in control. I would proudly introduce myself to adults as “a leading dandruff expert.” I evaluated movies in the persona of a precocious talking squirrel named Chippers Treebert. For talent night at summer camp I convinced a friend to perform Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” with me. But instead of becoming annoyed at his inability to learn the names of the baseball players, I grew increasingly patient and compassionate. By the end of the sketch we were tearfully hugging. Real tears, ironically—perhaps because I realized it was only through irony that I could display emotion. Or was it “emotion”? Even the first time I kissed a girl, at an eighth-grade dance, I ironically distanced myself from any real human resonance by freezing into place after our lips met and pretending I had fallen asleep. The girl found it “hilarious,” by which I mean–-and this will come as no surprise–-the opposite. Irony, my friends. You’re not my friends. I don’t even know you. Irony again.
As an adult, I continue to find it virtually impossible to express any idea without ironic subtext. The previous sentence is a rare exception. And the one after that. But not this sentence. Or this one. Stop it. Stop it stop it stop it. The fact is, constant ironic detachment has not only stymied my social and scholastic life, it’s also held me back in my profession. Perhaps, in hindsight, I never should have entered the priesthood at all. When I stand at the pulpit before my congregation and employ a phrase such as “God knows why,” I can’t help putting a sardonic, bored-sophisticate spin on the words, thereby not only implying that God actually has no idea why, but that perhaps He may not exist at all. Often, to avoid my uncontrollable eye-rolling when simply uttering the word “God,” I try to evade the problem by referring to Him as “Mr. Big Pants,” but people find this alienating, particularly during funerals. I must confess, or perhaps “confess,” that attendance at First Church of the Sacred Virgin has steadily declined, and those few who do still wander in seem to be young adults wearing fedoras and sporting beards. Perhaps they think some sort of performance art is happening. Ironically, maybe it is. No, it’s not ironic. It’s just sad. Or possibly “sad.”
Anyway, I appreciate you allowing me this time to bare my soul, or at least my “soul,” but I don’t expect you to provide any existence-altering solutions. Maybe that’s why I retreated behind irony in the first place–-because there are, ultimately, no life answers, or even “life answers,” or even, to use the rare but potent double-ironic, “’life answers.’” Maybe I choose to feign bemused indifference because, ironically, I’m afraid to earnestly face the metaphysical conundrums into which each human is born. Perhaps it is why I am addressing my remarks today, not before a traditional support group, but to you, the elderly Armenian couple seated across from me on the bus. Thanks for listening, or at least for “listening.” Ironically, the language barrier seems to have helped me relax and connect with you on some sort of genuine, human level. But is this truly ironic? Or merely “ironic?” I don’t know. I just don’t know. “God” help me.