When skies are heavy with rumours and speculation and shadows are thick with perfidy and infidelity, I remember Ed. Here's someone who's part of the answer, not the problem. Ed is not a spectator. But, then, neither is he a participant. You see, my friend has no place in the polarity between those who watch and those who do. Ed is an observer. And humanity is his subject. But his observations awaken chuckles rather than cheers. Which is why, to my way of thinking, he is part of the solution.
Now I'm not writing about a professional comedian or clown. Though some might disagree, Ed makes no claims to skill in wisecracks or buffoonery. Actually, he is master of the situational - a man of moments, a researcher of surprise. Ed invites laughter. He doesn't make jokes: he induces them. He has you quietly laughing because he can show you something immeasurably funny in your life in such a way that heightens your self-respect while it cracks your self-esteem. Only an artist of the loving heart can do that.
When Ed is around, you daren't be anyone but yourself. He can sever a myth without divesting you of faith in the human spirit. He's truly a sweet man. Nowadays there are few who can detect the ludicrous in humanity without losing out to cynicism. I'm talking about situational humour: from the art of anticipation to the science of surprise; from one unlikely moment to another. Situational humour has to do with living character, not running commentary. Ed's moments engender smiles - ''pre-smiles'' as well as ''after-smiles.''
Wasn't it Dr. Johnson (that literary lion of the 18th century) to whom biographer James Boswell was referring when he wrote that no one he knew could convey so clearly by the expression on his face - only seconds ahead - a promise of the idea he was about to utter? He might well have been writing of Ed.
True humour is the parenthesis of joy. And it is the clean edge of intelligence that provides the incision of humour. Is it surprising that truly wise people are humourists at heart, servants of the vibrant moment, not prophets of, round-the-corner gloom? As Alfred Kazin has written: ''Intelligence works in moments which cut like a sword across the silence.'' For Ed, moments whose spontaneity is kindness itself. . . .
There's much Christianity in all this.
Had you thought recently of Christianity specifically in relation to humour? The opposite of the gossip or, for that matter, of the cynic, is not one who recedes before humanity, finger on lips. He is the Christian humourist boldly spreading his word, standing forth ready for the brickbats as well as the bouquets. Perhaps, after all, scholars have overlooked the fact that the apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote: ''Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour (fragrance) of his knowledge by us in every place.'' The triumph is not without the persecution - but always the fragrance. And what more vital dimension of fragrant knowledge than Christly humour . . . ?
Of course, Paul knew all about ''edifying.'' But this is not quite what was in Ed's thought, I'm sure, when with noticeably vulpine grin he agreed to go running with me at 7 one August morn. At the appointed hour I reached his cottage (by foot) en route along a sandy shore of Lake Michigan. Ed hailed me from his veranda. He was dressed in prison pajamas with a conspicuously large red heart stitched onto the breast pocket. As I approached him, his carefully groomed hair stood suddenly erect like exclamation marks punctuating the morning breeze. But instead of running out to join me on the shore, he ushered forth Jim , his genially athletic son-in-law, with whom I found myself lengthening strides across the wet sands for the next half hour or so.
Ed was still in those prison pajamas when we returned. Now hardly before I had recovered my breath, he was thrusting a magnificent honeyrock melon into my hands with that smile of his and wishing me a warm shower on my return!
Did I say master of the situational? Once more, I found myself running - this time clutching Ed's generous melon close to my chest like a disoriented football player.
There's a sense of absurdity that is thoroughly regenerative. Nothing in it of the pathos of the clown, on the one hand, or of mere one-upmanship on the other. It's a sense that somehow links the panache of Cyrano de Bergerac with the unsuspected caring of King Lear's loyal jester.
Ed has it.