If you ever want to see the evolution of thought, on the topic of life–such as animal life and plant life, then do no more than to look back to yourself. Think of how you treated living things when you were five-, ten-, and twenty-years old. Are you brave enough to remember? Look at it squarely; it was you, after all.
Now let’s play long ball, and move forward more decades. Consider your experiences with the losses of a parent, a friend, and a pet. How have they changed you?
If you see an arc of accommodation across the span of your years, from your young days until now, you can chalk it up to this: Life is scalable. Loss will implore you to look past size. The deaths of those who loved you will force changes to the person you’re growing to be.
One of those changes might be empathy. And empathy bleeds downwards, on the size-spectrum of life. Empathy wants no regulation to its flow. It’s the charity that turns no one away.
That is why I say, life is scalable. We feel for the big creatures, such as people; and the little ones too.
Your young-to-old arc of accommodation may be a slight curve, but over time the change is substantial.
I’m going to tell you a story of a being who’s inconsequential, to most.
Last week, while I was shaving, I noticed a bug near the top of my bathroom medicine cabinet. It was climbing up the wood edge, towards the row of vanity lights. Antennas moving, body about an inch long, healthy as can be. At first I thought it was a large spider, but calm took over and I recognized what we generally term a “stink bug”. Benign, harmless. A pest.
First instinct: Kill it. Upon further review: Set it free.
But we had a problem. The January temperature that day was in the single digits. We had snowfall. I didn’t think he’d survive if I let him out.
I know stink bugs are occasionally in and around the house. I’ve vacuumed a few dried ones in the windowsill of my basement. When I saw a live one in the house last summer, I let him out the front door.
I decided to introduce him to a large potted vine I keep in the spare room. I carefully captured him in the tried-and-true glass and cardboard trap, and let him discover the greenery.
When I told my sister-in-law what I’d done, she said, “And what about all the babies she’s carrying on her back?”
We don’t know if my bug was in a family way, and I understood her point. Most people would probably feel the same way as she.
On Day 2, he had discovered the small table we kept near the vine. He looked like he might have a problem with his leg, by the way he was sitting still. I let him be.
Day Three he was on the rug. I used the glass to get him back to the vine.
I decided to look up whether Stink Bugs could live in the cold, and what they might like to eat. Here’s what the searches brought up: “Why are they called Stink Bugs? How do you kill them? Are they dangerous, what poisons are safe to use, what damage do they do,” etc.
There was nothing regarding care, because the creature was deemed a pest. Between the internet and my SIL, I realized I was a lone man, regarding the preservation of an inconsequential being.
The searches mentioned that the bugs moved towards light, which explained the medicine cabinet sojourn towards Vanity Bulb Row. I also read that they ate vegetation. Have at my vine, fella. It’s all right.
Days Four and Five he was off the vine again, on the nearby window sill, and on the move. He wasn’t lame at all, quite alive and a glass walker. What talent!
Day Six saw quite a bit of snowfall. He was very active on the window again, and flew from the shade to the glass, back and forth. I could hear him while I worked. The whiteness of the snow must have attracted his sense of light.
By Day Seven I made a decision, he was going to be set free. My reason was this: He didn’t seem to care about opportunities on the vine. He just wanted out. I didn’t want him to dry up as I’d seen in the basement. I opened the window and let him go.
I wish I could tell you a good end to this story. There is not. The Stink Bug flew for a moment then landed hard into the snow-covered hedge below. From what I could tell, he remained buried. I’m guessing the shock of temperature did him in, right there.
If no one cares for this creature, that hits me in the pit of my stomach. If there’s no regard for him going about his life, then I need to write it out. He was not an inconsequential being, not to me. I have killed insects before and I will kill them again. I have saved a few and will continue as best I can. This is not uniformity; it’s just the truth.
It’s easy to set a pretty ladybug free. She could have a series of storybooks written about her and the illustrations would garner more emotion than half the greeting cards in the country.
Empathy slides past the ladybug and stops alongside the Stink Bug. Empathy bleeds down to new territory and brings me right along. I’m on the ride because the bug was minding its own business and at that moment, I could handle it. I tried helping out because back in the day, the people and pets I’d lost were looking for just one thing while I had them. They wanted to live. I wasn’t great at understanding this when I was young, but I have changed.