I love riding the bus. And one thing I've noticed over the past decade is that, much like a house, a warm bus attracts vermin during the cold months. Rats and mice I've never seen, thankfully, but bugs ... cockroaches, ants, different kinds of flying insects. They occasionally make themselves visible, even in the dead of February.
I don't kill bugs. Well, I do. But I feel very guilty when it happens. I will kill mosquitoes, though sometimes I blow them off my skin. I will kill thousand-leggers — those most-unwelcome Chicago visitors — because they sting. And cockroaches. I know I'm supposed to kill them, too, but once every 10 times or so I just can't. I admire their resiliency and stay my hand. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman would say that's how I become a dead marine — to hesitate at the moment of truth. But in this case I'm only letting a cockroach crawl around my house at night and eat the eyelashes of my children. (Sorry, Erika.)
That's my platform on killing bugs. I try to stop the kids from tormenting them, though they honestly don't know what they're doing. Ella "petting" an ant is meant as an affectionate gesture. She doesn't know what death is yet. Like all parents, that is the conversation I look forward to the least. In the meantime, I just try to steer them back toward the sandbox and say that the ant needs to go home.
We recently bought the two of them a green tree frog, and I'm not entirely sure Ella realizes that when Toby eats a cricket, he is killing it. I am ashamed to admit that I get into the whole feeding spectacle because I'm impressed by the frog's lightning-quick movements once the cricket enters his plastic box. Toby often eats the bug in a second.
I feel bad when I offer up a cricket as a sacrifice. I don't want to kill anything. And I don't want anything to die any faster than it has to. But I have killed in the past and will continue to facilitate it as long as the frog is hungry. I do think that Nature offers chances for penance — much like you have a chance to treat someone better after you've poorly treated others in the past, or to apologize.
Sometimes Nature forces it upon you. And you have an unexpected opportunity to be merciful, to accept, even to nurture. Human beings are at their very best when they are selfless, paying no mind to the eyes of others. To embrace this is the closest we can get to the divine.
And so I found myself, the bug lover, confronted with such a situation on the 65 Grand bus on the way into work Thursday.
I was on the back bench of the 65 just entering the Loop over the river when I felt something on my arm. A very tiny, green bug — a lacewing. I see them all the time in my backyard in the summer. And here it was, crawling among the hairs on my wrist, surviving in the stuffy warmth.
After a while I grew weary of the tickling sensation, and so I gave the little thing a quick, sharp breath to send him on his way. I thought this ended the matter, but there he was, crawling on the top flap of my messenger bag. I was in a quandry now. If I carried the bug outside in the upper-30s weather, it would most certainly die. But if I blew him off he would stay on the warm bus. I just had to do it one more time.
I looked up. The crowd had thinned out by LaSalle, but two people remained, young in their 20s. The man wore sunglasses and had white wires coming out of his ears. He was reading some kind of M.Ed. coursebook that Erika might have. The young woman wore high-heeled suede ankle boots and was reading a copy of Keith Richards' "Life." I felt they would notice me if I craned my neck forward to blow off the bug. I submitted to their prying eyes and felt greatly ashamed. I exited the bus with the thing on my bag.
As I made my way the mile south down State Street to the office, I winced, wondering at what point the lacewing blew off in the cold wind: on the bridge, by Macy's, when I turned the corner at Monroe and the cold kiss of the lake hit me? By the time I stepped into the revolving door on Michigan, I felt like Slobodan Milošević. The elevator ride up to five was gloomy.
But when I set my bag down in my cubicle, I saw the tiny fleck was still there. The bug had hung on the whole way, a mile of gray, wind-blown, dispassionate Loop. I looked closer, afraid it perhaps had died and merely clung in rigor mortis, but the little fly was slowly crawling about the canvas surface. I checked on him over the course of the day, and at some point he disappeared. I hoped he would enjoy the rest of his short life in our warm office.
What this occurrence means I don't know. I suppose that when I was shown to be lacking, worrying about social embarrassment, Nature gave me a second chance. I didn't exactly take it. The fly survived in spite of me. But I was at least made to remember that life is stronger than human affairs. Sometimes you are forced to accept the rule of Nature. And in these cases, it knows what's best. The big B "Best," which does include death.
I'd like to promise I'll never kill a bug again, but I know this will go out the window once mosquito season arrives. If there is some kind of real atonement, I wish to find it. Embracing the next opportunity for mercy — to answer the call in full, to not be individually preoccupied and hard-hearted. I think Nature continues to give us these chances.