Midterm exams were probably looming or a paper was probably due or an essential book probably needed to be read, but, true to form, our minds were elsewhere. The smell of Nag Champa hung in the air, only slightly obscuring the smell of latent chili-cheese fries, stale beer and a baker’s dozen other odors. We sat on dirty couches which sat on dirtier carpet. Somewhere outside, deep bass from one apartment blended with Billy Corgan’s screams from another. The room was lit only by someone’s grandma’s old lamp and the glow from Sega’s NHL ’94. There may or may not have been a lava lamp in the room.
It was college and, that night, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me more than most others I learned in much more sanitary conditions during those four years of my life.
Cassidy was strumming a guitar badly and Nick was thumbing through a Far Side daily calendar. I was fully engrossed in sitting, if memory serves. Then Nick came upon one cartoon that elicited more than just guttural giggles from his audience, it actually started a quasi-philosophical conversation. OK, a quasi-quasi-philosophical conversation, but it was better than listening to Cassidy play the guitar.
(This is where I was going to reprint the cartoon, but Creators Syndicate informed me of Gary Larson’s firm policy of not allowing any reprinting of Far Side cartoons on any electronic medium, even on weensy little insignificant blogs like this one. I can, however, tell you about it.
The cartoon is simply two gorillas sitting and eating bananas. The caption reads: “You know, Sid, I really like bananas… I mean, I know that’s not profound or nothin’… Heck! We ALL do…
But for me, I think it goes much more beyond that.”
Now, back to our story…..)
“That’s it,” Nick said. “That’s what you have to figure out. What do you love? I mean, really love.” We went around and around, juxtaposing this gorilla’s love of bananas with the human pursuit of joy. We talked about happiness and societal designations and shared experiences and individuality. We talked about how discovering transcendent joy could bleed into every aspect of life, how it could enrich everything we touch. We talked, the way only 20 year old college kids can, about how real freedom comes only from seeking what you really love. And we came up with our credo:
Find your banana.
(I know. It works on so many levels.)
We may have been young and inexperienced. We might have been slightly short-sighted and we probably weren’t entirely sober, but I thought then and I still think now that we hit on a universal truth. (All right, Gary Larson did, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there that night, so I’m giving us the nod for synthesis.) Life is full of things we enjoy, things that everyone enjoys, things like leaves and books and naps and laughing and Michael McDonald’s voice and hugs and apple juice and the mountains and the beach and the wind. But there are things for all of us that go beyond simple enjoyment. There are things that ignite us and remind us of what a flabbergasting privilege it really is to be alive. Those things are our bananas. (Yep, still works.)
Since that night on that unspeakably filthy couch, I have been vigilant about discovering my bananas and I truly feel that my life is richer for that awareness. I won’t drone on about all of the banana detecting I’ve done (did I really just say that?), but I will give you an example. One of my bananas is the band Tool. The music that those four guys (five to be precise, considering the two different bass players) have bestowed upon my life has triggered more passion, joy, introspection and love than I can possibly put into words. I have cried at two different shows. Cried. At rock concerts. Twice. Mind you, we’re not talking about a flailing arms, screaming, losing control of my bodily functions kind of crying. It was more of the tears slowly finding their way down my cheeks, physically moved by the moment kind of thing, but still. I also have had to stop listening to a few of their songs while driving, most notably their cover of Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’, because I just stop paying attention to everything but the music. They have touched my life with their music and my life is infinitely better for it. Tool is one of my bananas.
Since becoming a father, this whole banana identification idea has found new life. I think of the joy that mine have brought me and I can’t help but think of my girls discovering theirs (Oh, Lord). I watch them light up at all of the little things that make little girls light up and marvel at the infinite number of bananas kids are capable of finding. But then I project forward to when they are adults, more cognizant of themselves and capable of that deeper love that comes with deeper understanding, and I can’t wait to get to listen to them talk to me about things like I talk to people about Tool. Actually, I can wait – but I am really looking forward to it.
Life is sometimes excruciating and sometimes astonishingly wonderful. As I learned in that dank apartment almost twenty years ago, though, if we just take a little time to find our bananas, we can almost will ourselves into being astonished.
Here’s a peek at my aforementioned banana. I would love to hear about yours.