Friday, November 11, 2005

"Go to the ant...

Consider its way and be wise:
It has no commander, no overseer, no ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer and
gathers its food at harvest."

I have learned several lessons from ants this week. Quite frankly, I wish I had thought of these things without having to battle the little things on my home turf. But sometimes it takes an up-close encounter to learn the lessons properly. So here goes:

First of all, ants work together as a team on every project. They are perhaps the best example we have of how to play "follow the leader." One ant finds a treasure of sugar, lays down a line of ant-scent, and everyone else in the nest follows that leader. If one ant veers to the right or to the left, the others will follow. Each ant can make hundreds of trips back and forth between the nest and the object of its desire. Very little will deter an ant from carrying out its purpose. The problem arises when the ants come across a bait laid out by an irate home owner. The trail of ants continues, but instead of bringing home food that nourishes, they bring home poison that eventually kills all the members of the ant clan.

When we choose to do so, people work well as teams also and follow well-made trails that lead us to great treasure. When the Pilgrims set out from the shores of England several hundred years ago, they laid a trail to religious freedom, a trail that many followed. Many trips were made back and forth across the Atlantic even though the way was certainly trecherous. For those seeking religious asylum, that trail was well worth following. When the late Rosa Parks decided to not give her seat up on the bus fifty years ago, she laid down the scent of racial and social freedom that thousands have followed in the decades that have passed since then. If she had not stayed seated on that bus, my inter-racial marriage would be illegal in the state in which I now reside.

On the other hand, problems arose when settlers from foreign lands followed each others' scents across the Atlantic Ocean carrying slaves in the holds of their ships. Problems have arisen as alcohol, drugs, pornography, guns, and tobacco became the target of thousands of trips back and forth across our streets, our school yards, our nation, and our world. Entire generations of people are dying of AIDS/HIV the world over because of the trail laid by thousands of people who have spread that dreaded virus. Gang, family, and government-sanctioned violence kills millions around the world every year; one ant gets hurt, gets indignant, decides to seek revenge, and countless followers march off to their deaths. This nest that we call planet earth has been repeatedly infected with these and other venoms, and far too often the poison spreads far too quickly for anyone to stop it.

What if we decided to lay down different trails? What if we laid a trail of conservation, recycling, reduction of pollution, and environmental concern that subsequent generations can follow in order to slow down the destruction of our planet? What if the trails we laid were scented with forgiveness for wrongdoing instead of bitterness and retaliation, with graceful acceptance instead of prejudice and intolerance? How different would our homes be if we carried the cargo of laughter and loving embraces into the nest rather than a cold shoulder, a pointed finger, or a clenched fist? What if we took the nectar of joy that we harvest in our homes and carried it into our schools, our work places, and even our churches?

Another analogy came to mind after the Terminix lady explained that another way that ants are killed is through the powder that is laid on their trails. Later on when they groom each other they coat each other with that toxic substance and die soon thereafter.

I had to consider what is on my hands and on my heart when I groom my husband, my children, and the other people I love and care for. Do I clean them with kind and encouraging words? Or am I rubbing the salt of criticism and sarcasm into wounds that are so often inflicted on them by the world? Can they trust that the lotion, the powders, and the oils I rub on their tender spiritual and emotional underbellies are made up of soothing sentiments? Am I careful to handle healing balms when I groom myself or am I exposed to ways of thinking, patterns of living, and belief systems that will eventually maim and kill me, those around me, and those who share the world in which I live and move?

One more lesson from the ants: Don't use pumps with Starbucks syrup bottles. That's the same as leaving the bottle wide open.

I am grateful for everything those tiny sugar ants taught me.
I am more grateful for the kind Terminix woman who came to our house the other day, explained the life cycle of the ants to me, and then laid down a trail that will lead them out of my house and keep them out.

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