Among many other things, this term has been a term of bananas. As a food that’s eminently portable, fun to eat, provocatively-shaped, available at every one of Dartmouth’s dining locations, bananas have long exerted an occult power over me that reached its climax in the early days of Winter Term, 2014. I’ve been eating bananas non-stop, in and out of class. As I write, a pile of peels sits next to me on the desk, looking for all the world like the corpse of a black and yellow octopus. I’ve also discovered that a banana makes for a handy apparatus for gesturing vigorously at a fellow student who’s just said something out of line, or as microphone when conducting a hard-hitting interview with an important campus figure. I’ve littered my text messages with the banana emoji, in singles and pairs, leaving my conversational partners to wonder at the tantalizing meaning of my messages.
I have even come to identify with a particular banana, whom I met mid-way through January. On the back porch of the Black Visual Arts center, which I’ve passed each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning on the way to class, lies a banana. This miserable specimen of fruit has escaped custodial eye, stranded endlessly on the chilled cement like a high-potassium Ariadne. As the temperature has swung up and down, the banana has repeatedly re-frozen and thawed, causing its process of putrefaction and blackening to get drawn out agonizingly over a period of ten weeks, that should have lasted no more than ten days.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thought that enters my head is “Humanity is doomed. You are doomed. Facebook, yolo, Real Housewives, Kindles, Upworthy, Miley Cyrus…these are the reasons God doesn’t talk to us anymore.” With these grim and menacing thoughts clouding my mind like a wreath of bats, I shuffle out of Topliff and in the direction of class.
[Pictured: Aaron Pellowski '15]
But then I catch sight of the banana. “Hello again, banana,” I think. “You’re looking a little limper than last time. If it weren’t for the hard cold air, I’m sure your odor would be sweet and violently pungent. It is only your lack of segmentation that distinguishes you from a turd in the eyes of passers-by. But I know what you really are, on the inside. And I’m proud you’ve survived.”
This has been a trying term for me, but like the banana, I’ve resisted rotting into a dark puddle of despair. In all seriousness, the banana hasn’t been more than a symbol, but it is a symbol for the real phenomenon of collective angst. We here at Dartmouth understand ourselves to be high-achievers, the smartest cookies in the box. We set preposterous expectations for ourselves, seemingly for no better reason than testing the limits of our raw human capacities. Happiness, self-care, therapy of any form: these aren’t just forms of giving up, they’re forms of selfishness. I was sick for nearly a third of this term, but I still attended class with an ear infection that made it almost impossible to hear. I wanted my friends to see me persisting in spite of my difficulty, just in case any of them were dangerously close to completely giving up. We inspire each other with our success, but we grasp our collective humanity when we suffer.
This term saw superhuman achievement on the part of our student athletes at the Olympics and the Ivy Heptagonals. As a community, we enjoyed explosive, unenvious pride at their accomplishments. But this in this same term, we lost a son, and then a daughter of our family. And another daughter was made the victim of unspeakable violence that came from within our own ranks. It was in those wordless hours when we brought our fists of celebration down to our hearts and held them there, feeling the ebb and throb that remind us that we are human, and that we owe each other everything.