Seeing God (In Bill Murray’s Banana Peels)

Seeing God (In Bill Murray’s Banana Peels) November 12, 2014

st-vincent3I’m not exactly sure when Bill Murray went from being wackily eccentric to a national treasure. But he’s there now.

Everyone loves Bill Murray. I love him. You love him. Your grandma probably loves him. Heck, your grandma’s probably met him, given Murray’s propensity to photobomb weddings and sing karaoke with complete strangers. He’s so beloved that Ford could probably sell Pintos again if they hired him as a pitchman. In a feature in Rolling Stone (“Being Bill Murray” by Gavin Edwards), Murray recounts the night when he took over for an Oakland cab driver and had him play the saxophone as he drove around town. And afterwards, the two went out for barbecue.

“It was awesome,” Murray said. “I think we’d all do that.”

Oddly enough, the Rolling Stone piece made me think a little bit about God, and how we interact with God. Not to suggest Bill Murray is anywhere near divine. Just a spin through Meatballs will prove that pretty definitively. But there are some similarities worth noting. Consider:

He Can Be Hard to Reach. Bill Murray doesn’t make it easy to cast him. He doesn’t have an agent or a publicist. He has a 1-800 number and an answering machine. If you want him to be in a movie, you have to leave a message on the machine—or, more likely, several—and hope that he calls you back. “After he agrees to be in your movie, you may not hear from him again until the first day of shooting,” writes Edwards. Bill Murray, it seems, moves in mysterious ways.

Talking with God can feel a little like that. We’re told that God always hears us, of course. But the reality is that, when we pray, we don’t typically hear God talking back to us. Our communication is, at times, frustratingly one way, and we can feel as though our prayers are floating into nothing—until we hear back from Him. There are times, if we’re honest, when it feels like we don’t hear back at all.

When We Reach Him, It’s Sometimes Not What We Want. “Bill literally throws banana peels in front of people,” says Melissa McCarthy, Murray’s St. Vincent co-star. “Not to make them slip, but for the look on their face when they’re like, ‘Is that really a banana peel in front of me?'”

Bill_Murray_grand_budapestBill Murray works on Bill Murray time. “It was sometimes challenging to get Bill to come to set,” Ted Melfi, St. Vincent director, told Rolling Stone. “Not because he’s a diva but because we couldn’t find him.” He even hired an assistant to follow Murray around, but Murray would always lose her. Murray plays with his lines constantly, sometimes ignoring the script altogether. Filmmaker Ivan Reitman says that he can be “frustrating to other creative people, and, frankly, unfair, because everything has to go on his clock.”

A confession: I’m sometimes a little terrified to pray “Thy will be done.” Because there’s always a chance that God will take us up on that. “Thy will” could send into a place or circumstance that’s wholly outside your comfort zone. I’ve interviewed people who had nice, comfortable lives … and then suddenly found themselves running soup kitchens or working as doctors in Haiti, all because they’re following God’s will. He doesn’t always act in the manner we’d like. He rarely pays too much heed to our own plans. When you truly let God in, He’s going to take over the show, and that can mean the end of your hopes for a solid, secure, predictable existence. And that’s scary.

But That’s OK, Because It’s Worth It. After Reitman talked about how frustrating Murray can be, he added something pretty interesting. “But he’s worth it.” Sure, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting into with Bill Murray, but you do know that you’re getting … Bill Murray. For all the chaos he can bring to a set, chances are he’ll also bring something special, too—perhaps something magical.

There’s a method in Murray’s madness. He works better when he’s working loose. He works better when he feels alive. And many of his antics, both public and private, are about making other people feel alive, too. “If I see someone who’s out cold on their feet, I’m going to try to wake that person up,” he says. “It’s what I’d want someone to do it for me. Wake me the h— up and come back to the planet.”

The Rolling Stone piece ended by recounting an answer Bill Murray gave during a Toronto Q&A. someone asked, “How does it feel to be Bill Murray?” And he answered it thus:

There’s a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate . . . up and down your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile. So what’s it like to be me? Ask yourself, ‘What’s it like to be me?’ The only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself that’s where home is.

There’s something brilliant in that. Something, dare I say, spiritual. God made us who we are for a reason: We fill a singular need in the world that we’re perhaps only dimly aware of. We are rare. Special. Unique. And I think God wants us to be us as often as we can.

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