RIVER FALLS -- “Here’s a riddle for you. Find the answer. There’s a reason for the world. You and I.”
It’s a lyric from the 2006 Five For Fighting song, “The Riddle.” The song tackles two questions humans have been asking from the beginning of time: 1) Why are we here on this planet? and 2) How should we spend our time while we’re here?
The lyrics pose the riddle. The gorgeous melody evokes emotion. It requires both head and heart to find the answer.
River Falls’ volleyball parent Tracy Banitt may have just helped us find the map. In a Kohl’s. Trying on a jacket. On sale.
“The jacket was cheap, but should I buy it?” Tracy asked himself. “Am I going to use this next winter?”
It was a valid question, but the answer had nothing to do with the $20 price tag.
Tracy has never smoked a day in his life, but he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer a few months prior to his Kohl’s visit. Doctors said the average life expectancy would be 10 months.
That was in April of 2017 and Tracy wasn’t sure if he should buy the jacket because he wasn’t sure if he’d be around to wear it.
“I’ve been wearing that coat for two going on three winters,” Tracy said, “and every time I put that coaton, I think to myself, it’s a $20 gamble that paid off.”
From the moment he decided to buy the jacket, Tracy Banitt decided his timer was counting up, not down. Instead of a race against time, it would be a march toward milestones.
“These milestones mean different things for us now,” said wife Lisa. “No one ever thinks cancer is a blessing but it has taught us to live life differently.”
“You can’t stay in the same place,” Tracy said, referring to time standing still.
Life moves on and instead of being sad one milestone is finished, Tracy is constantly looking forward to the next milestone and enjoying every minute spending time with his family in between.
Tracy asked me a rhetorical question: When the end date is uncertain, how do you adjust your living style so you don’t waste a single day?
Tracy doesn’t have a bucket list but he knows exactly what he wants to do.
“At the end of the day, I want to spend my time with those people,” he said, pointing to his family. This past weekend meant being in Green Bay and cheering on his middle daughter, Emily, at the Wisconsin state volleyball tournament. The senior All-State outside hitter, who measures a 30-inch vertical jump, will go down as one of the all-time Wildcat greats. Emily will continue her volleyball career next year at Division I Loyola-Chicago.
The Wildcats came up two games short, losing in the state semi-finals, but Tracy gave Emily a big bear hug after the game. He was donning a pair of Wildcat colored, pinstripe overall bibs courtesy of Lisa..
“She pulls me way out of my comfort zone to put that stuff on,” Tracy said smiling.
The Banitts are a volleyball family. The oldest daughter, Elise, is a sophomore playing at University of Wisconsin-Stout and the youngest “Flying Banitt Sister,” Abigail, is a ninth grader.
I would say Tracy Banitt is a walking miracle having turned 10 months into three years, but he took a 4-mile jog this past Sunday, so better stated, he’s a running miracle. The rest of us, just like Tracy, have no idea how many more winters our jackets will see.
Let’s circle back to the Five For Fighting lyric riddle, the one stage 4 cancer helped Tracy help me. “You and I” can mean very big and very small. It can mean two countries or two people. The same goes for “world”; It can mean one family or planet Earth.
The answer to “The Riddle” is to love freely, meaning with no strings attached, and enjoy the journey with those you do.