“I could see why Archimedes got all excited. There was nothing finer than the feeling that came rushing through you when it clicked and you suddenly understood something that had puzzled you. It made you think it just might be possible to get a handle on this old world after all.” ~Jeannette Walls
I took Spanish language classes from seventh to ninth grade. Whatever I learned is largely lost. Lost too are higher level math and chemistry lessons. But for some reason I can remember the theme song from Gilligan’s Island reruns and the show’s one-note characters trotting through formulaic episodes.
Lately I find myself thinking about the show’s recurring plot device, that of being hit on the head by a falling coconut. This was a fix for nearly anything. The professor is stumped while theorizing. He walks under a coconut tree. CLONK, he can suddenly solve mysteries of the universe. Mary Ann is worried that she isn’t pretty enough until, CLONK, she thinks she’s got movie star glamour. I seem to recall Gilligan was clonked most often.
Even on a show as silly as this one, being hit by a coconut was surely a metaphor for being knocked well beyond preconceived ideas and limiting beliefs.
If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.
I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.
Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered a lot of falling coconuts. Maybe the lesson is to look up.