The Panda Perplex

The baby panda's father, Tian Tian, is unfazed by the pandamonium.
The baby panda’s father, Tian Tian, is unfazed by the pandamonium.

In a city where power politics and grandstanding are routine, the need for diversion from the perpetual feuding drives some to great lengths.

Some people find relief in music or sports, either as spectators or participants. An obsessive interest in any sport offers a giddy disconnect with genuine problems. The operative word here is obsessive. Rational humans appear immune to obsessive behavior. They plan their lives carefully, set goals, work towards them, eat right, think constructively and generally set an example for the rest of us.

Do the math.
Do the math.

But they can never know the joy of the True Obsessive, who charts a course through life guided by an unwavering conviction that certain actions must be taken, certain sights must be seen, certain foods must be consumed, etc. While this might seem irrational, from another angle it reveals a cunning strategy to find satisfaction in a world which all too often refuses to play ball when it comes to fairness.

For the obsessive who defines happiness as the attainment of whatever particular experience they have chosen as their guiding star, the goal of satisfaction becomes less remote.

All of which is to say that if your obsessive passion is panda bears, it’s a great time to be alive in Washington, D.C.

On the planet at this point there are only 300 pandas in captivity, and only 1,600 left in the wild.

Our newest celebrity panda cub, Bao Bao, born August 23rd, 2013, is only the second panda since 1972 to survive birth in captivity at the National Zoo. She made her public debut on Saturday, and thousands of people waited in line for hours to get a precious minute to snap a photo and drool on the glass separating the public from the wee bear.

The Zoo's live Panda-cam lets fans get a panda fix anytime, night or day.
The Zoo’s live Panda-cam lets fans get a panda fix anytime, night or day.

I wasn’t one of them. Not that I don’t like pandas, of course. Who wouldn’t like pandas? But since my children are grown, and my patience isn’t what it used to be, I declined the opportunity to stand in line for 90 minutes to get a glimpse of the adorable newbie. But I respect the devotion of those pandamanians who got up before dawn on Saturday, and waited long hours in the freezing cold to be among the first to see Bao Bao. Some drove nine hours for the privilege.

Visitors pass through a bamboo tunnel while waiting for a glimpse of Bao Bao.
Visitors pass through a bamboo tunnel while waiting for a glimpse of Bao Bao.

However, just because I wouldn’t go the distance for a baby panda doesn’t mean I might not do it for some other obsession. There was a time when I waited in line for almost two hours to get a book signed by Terry Pratchett. You might not think there would be that many people interested in such a thing, but, trust me, the distance between desire and obsession is mutable. One minute you think you can do without something, and then…gotta have it.

You know you want one.
You know you want one.

So my hat’s off to the panda crazies. I salute their funny hats, their whimsical backpacks, their umbrellas, their bento boxes. It’s all good. It goes to support panda research. And though some members of  Congress question whether too much money is being spent on one endangered species, at least the public is chipping in big time to shoulder the cost when it comes to pandas.

But if the giant anteater ever gets a star on the endangered list, I wouldn’t bet on its chances of touching off a meerkat-like whirlwind of devotion. We humans are a fickle bunch. Our obsessions come and go. Not unlike the endangered creatures who inspire them.