Last week I wrote about Bonkers, the revolutionary apple – but unknown to me – the Atlantic, two weeks earlier, published an article, Why So Much is Bonkers Right Now. The Atlantic mentioned at least ten references to this imported British word. For example, Mother Jones had recently reassured its readers: “It’s Not Just You . . . This Week Was Bonkers,” referring to the latest Trump charades. And Vox used the word to describe Netflix’s newest film, Okja: “a bonkers corporate satire staring Tilda Swinton and a superpig.” I saw a two-page spread advertising the film in the New Yorker magazine. The image, a young woman leading a giant creature with a factory building as its saddle spewing out pollution from one of three smokestacks, was so fascinating I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes and found that it is a story of an extraordinary human animal bond threatened by capitalist consumers.
The Atlantic article also mentions the word Bonkers’ first use on American soil in 1965, when an American film reviewer of the film Paranoia used the word to describe “Marcello Mastroianni as going slowly bonkers while sharing a bath, bed, and Bedouin with three co-stars.” In the 1980s, there was a candy named Bonkers. Its commercial takes the prize for worst of its kind, but you can watch it here. And there is a recent memoir by the comedian Jennifer Saunders, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs. What is the appeal of this Bonkers everyone is using? Zany, crazy, madcap, screwy, wacky? The Atlantic article ended with an appreciatory note, saying that this British word is “uniquely suited to this American moment: a time when news can be so often confusing, and overwhelming, and, all in all, a little bit bonkers.”
Yet to describe our world as Bonkers doesn’t feel right. After the Manchester killings and the London Bridge savagery, the world is not Bonkers, but alarming. Withdrawing America from the Paris Climate Accord is equally horrifying. Bonkers is a non-judgmental adjective; it resists condemnation. Faced with the harsh reality of innocent lives lost, the continued devastation of people’s homes from war and terrorism, and the loss of species and habitat because of climate change, Bonkers doesn’t describe the depth of suffering in our world.
Yet, at the same moment that devastation is happening all around, I watch young children skip merrily before climbing aboard a big yellow school bus and bike down our street with fishing rods tucked under their arms, knowing nothing about the follies of their parents’ generation. I feel similarly protective of the spotted brown and white eggs in a small nest high in a branch of the Saturn peach. These birds will know nothing of the perils facing the earth. This contrast between the news and what is happening in my backyard does make me feel like this world is Bonkers.
Today, a friend came by and we spent several hours removing peaches from the Saturn peach tree. Last week it was pruned to about half its size, and now we needed to thin the heavy fruit set. Packed together on the branches like sardines in a tin, the tree had produced a crazy number of apples. When this much fruit grows tightly together, disease spreads, the fruit is small, and it taxes the health of a tree. I heard myself say to her the ‘B’ word, ‘The tree is Bonkers – it has way too much fruit.’
Suffering is all around us, but miraculous beauty is too. Maybe the gift of the word Bonkers is that it describes craziness without being judgmental. We can do so much more to relieve suffering in the world if we don’t wallow in judging thoughts, but take up our lives wholeheartedly. Whether we grow miraculous peaches, listen to another’s pain, or spearhead an activist role to clean up the planet, every day we have the opportunity to hold back our anger, yet take in the grief; to feel the devastation, yet fight for change. Maybe to declare that this world is Bonkers is to bring lightness to the seriousness of our situation, and to let laughter wash over our tears.