A Past Without Pandas

September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

A whole is more than the sum of its parts. That said, the individual parts are sometimes as consequential as the whole itself. In my personal history, I can recall a number of individual attributes and experiences that greatly shaped my current self. One such attribute is my personal love of the giant panda. Despite the potential ridicule of such a proclamation, I can’t deny that the panda bear played an integral role in my early life. From a young age, these miraculous black and white apparitions mesmerized me. An avid fan of The National Geographic channel, I frequently watched as these majestic bears pranced through the forests of china, eating bamboo and lolling in stoic complacency. This fascination did not end at my television preferences but extended into a bedroom décor of panda posters and stuffed panda pillows.

Although my hometown zoo had no pandas, the absence did not deter me from frequent visits. I spent endless hours with my face plastered against glass exhibits, fawning over the flora and fauna of the natural world. But although I enjoyed seeing the occasional polar bear or penguin, nothing could adequately satisfy the panda’s void. Sometime after my 8th birthday, however, my childhood dream was finally realized. In what was quite possibly the zenith of my youth, I was graced with a visit to the Washington DC zoo, home to one of the nation’s only giant panda exhibits. As you can imagine, this was a family vacation of monumental proportions, hitherto unrealized in my young life. Upon entering the exhibit, I stood face to face with my animal idol. The panda before me lay slumped in a languid pile on the exhibit floor, seemingly unperturbed by the excitement of his gawking audience. I spent the next two hours watching this indolent panda with an inexhaustible excitement, reveling in an afternoon that proved to be one of the most profound in my youth.

Despite the obvious absurdity of my girlhood obsession, it is undeniable that the panda profoundly impacted my life. Without that epic trip to the DC zoo or the indefinite hours spent watching National Geographic, I would never have attained the same comprehensive knowledge of and appreciation for the natural world. But in a more transcendent lighting, the panda represents something greater than a child’s whim; it embodies a passion for life, a love for the natural world, and a thirst for meaning greater than the boundaries of our awareness. In many ways, a panda is not just a bear, and a whole is not just the sum of its constituent parts.








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