The carpenter ants tried, again, this year to take up residence in my house. This time, they entered through the bathtub – or, more specifically, the slit where the grout used to be. Each scout would spontaneously appear, fatter and bolder than the last, only to be crushed by my jaded and insensitive stomp.
But, maybe because of the heightened awareness that often accompanies intense concentration, or merely the singular vantage point the toilet posed, from my seat on the “throne” over this miniature kingdom I would witness a small phenomenon.
Expecting the shower to have cleansed the tub floor of my latest victims, I was not prepared for the sight on one particularly-sunny mid-morning. Gazing over the porcelain precipice at what appeared to be not one, but two scouts, to my astonishment they appeared to have curiously mutated. As I peered down at their elongated asymmetry, I discovered to my greater amazement that they were both carrying something. Known to be burden-bearing insects, what these latest emissaries had found was not a precious morsel of toe-jam to hoist but, rather, the very carcasses of their carpenter counterparts. Yes; they were bearing their dead, and traveling at quite a pace.
Momentarily distracted by the bizarre sight of them I did not note right away that, though they were moving fast, these ants seemed to have no clear destination. The slit where the grout used to be was all the way at the other end of the tub, and nothing they did put them anywhere near the map; rather, these pallbearers appeared to be following an erratic pattern, a ritual of panic.
What happened next is less important. The purpose of telling this story is not to disclose the author’s primitive inclinations regarding the efficient disposal of pesky pests, living or dead, but to take the lesson they were there to teach. And, it is this: do we sometimes run figure-eights across strange terrain, carrying our dead, hoping some primal instinct will lead us to resolution – or, is there another way for us to honor our humanity without severing the bond we will always share with those whom we love?
The world of earth’s creatures is, while highly organized, intensely vulnerable, exposed, transparent; we humans, whether by contrast or design, spend long hours weaving intricate disguises intended to protect our need to hold on. In so doing, we mask, some more unsuccessfully than others, our pain, our loss, our grief. And, those of us who are least successful can be seen, marked by our gait, as we travel that unmarked path across time, wearing the banner that bares all.
© ruth a. scanzillo 8/19/12
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