Last year, while away on a summer missionary project, the word “ironic” popped up in a conversation with our Thai friends. As we drove around the streets outside Bangkok, several Americans attempted to explain this rather unique word, and its meaning, to our hosts. We took turns offering definitions or examples. Some tended toward mere coincidence. Others were simply odd circumstances. Nothing seemed to click, and eventually the van grew quiet as we gave up.

A moment later Joanna, our Thai friend, shared her talented voice with us, singing well-known American songs. After the first verse of a Simon and Garfunkel tune, she broke into the familiar chorus, “Like a bridge over troubled waters” just as our van crossed a lengthy bridge. Our group began to share a knowing look and chuckle at what was happening at that moment. We tried to explain the coincidence that bordered on irony that was occurring. I’m still not sure it fully translated completely to the Thai-speakers on the van.

Let’s face it. Irony is a tough concept to explain, whether by definition or illustration. That is, until USA Today reprinted the following account from the Mount Airy News a few months ago.

In April, 83 year-old Betty Lou Lynn was mugged and had her wallet stolen in her new hometown. The former actress had lived in Los Angeles until she became alarmed at the city’s crime rate. So she retreated to peaceful Mount Airy, N.C., the birthplace of Andy Griffith. Perhaps you don’t recognize her by name, but it’s possible you know Ms. Lynn. That’s right. The actress who played Barney Fife’s best girl, Thelma Lou, was mugged on the quiet streets that served as the model for the idyllic TV town of Mayberry. Only after moving from California, where the show was actually filmed.

For me, that may be the best example of irony I will ever hear.

What about you? Have a good illustration of the concept that you’d like to share?