Ants

I don’t like bugs very much.

For the most part, bugs and I have a mutual understanding. If they leave me alone, and stay out of my house, I’ll leave them alone. There’s a few exceptions, of course, such as unspoken rule that they’re not allowed to eat the flowers, veggies or herbs growing in the flower pots out back… or that wasps aren’t allowed to build nests anywhere I may need to go, since I’m a little bit allergic to them.

I wasn’t always so nice to lesser life forms. Shocking, I know. I was never the kid with a magnifying glass, but I was the one that found it interesting to see what happened if I poured a bucket of water on top of an ant hill. How fast could they rebuild it, anyway?

As the weather has gotten warmer, I’ve found myself watching ants again for the first time in almost 20 years. They surprised me when I saw them first, a thin black ribbon threading across the concrete slab that forms our back porch. I don’t spend a lot of time outdoors any more, but instead of rushing the dog in and out this time, I found myself sitting on the concrete beside the line of ants, watching.

I’m sort of a small person. Standing at 5’9″, I’m taller than most women I’ve met, but I’ll likely be the shortest of my brothers and sisters. Only my two youngest sisters are still shorter than me, but they’re catching up fast. Aside from my height, I’m pretty slight of figure, and I’m not a very loud or outspoken person. It made for a strange experience, really. Sitting next to all those ants, for the first time in a long time, I just felt so big.

I could have crushed them at any time. I could have hosed them off the patio or doused them with bug spray. But when I looked down, I happened to see one solitary ant, off on her lonesome away from the line. In that moment, as meaningless as ants would normally seem, I felt a wave of sympathy for that poor, simplest of creatures.

She walked in circles, footsteps halting and hesitant. She’d gotten off track, somehow, and try as she might, she couldn’t find the flow of her sisters that would lead her back home. I saw her drop the crumb she was carrying several times. Each time, she’d stop and pick it up, right herself and start looking for the group again. Something about that sheer, mindless determination was humbling. There’s so many times I’ve felt like just one lonely ant – Separated from the group I belong with, lost and trying to find my way on my own. I understood the uncertainty, and I was embarrassed by the way a tiny little ant could face the trial with more courage than I.

With that strange new kinship with a creature a fraction of my size in mind, I plucked a blade of grass and laid it in the ant’s path. She seemed confused, at first, but edged along it until she reached the end – An end I’d laid right beside the long, milling line of her sisters. The moment she reached the group, those halting, hesitant movements shifted seamlessly into a smooth and confident stride. Crumb held proudly overhead, my little ant-friend made her way down the line to the anthill bubbling up from a crack in the concrete. I watched her the whole way, and when she disappeared from sight, I felt a simple sort of satisfaction.

Sometimes we’re all a little bit like ants, and sometimes, we just need a little push.

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