A very dear friend and very special person sent me an electronic Easter card that I opened the morning of Easter Sunday. I see this wonderful person far less than I would like and her occasional correspondence is very precious to me – especially those e-cards which she sends me every year for Christmas, Easter and my birthday. So when I opened the card, my feelings were mostly for her and not about the card; I started to watch, as I normally would, feeling very grateful for the thought but not registering much by way of emotion with the card. But to my surprise I found myself getting absorbed in the card and was soon reduced to shuddering sobs.
I have thought about this quite a bit today and rerun the card several times. I want to share what this emotional reaction was about.
The card is a drawn characterization of an old English country landscape that runs as a video to the strains of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” There are two moments in the card that caught me: the first is the bee in the flower; and the second the lamb gamboling. But it’s the appearance, in context, of a bee that hit me hardest.
I have read much recently about the dramatic decline in bee populations and when I first reflected on my emotional reaction I thought it was simply a recognition of this loss. It occurred to me that the context of an idyllic country farm landscape takes this further and opens up deeper echoes of things lost. But after some time I realized this is too simple. This is a truth for me, but not a deep truth, not one that would reduce me to shuddering tears.
Perhaps, I thought, the emotions arose about the plight of insects; not just an objective sadness of their disappearance, but a sense of complicity, of guilt at being a member of the species which is exercising vast prejudice against insects on a massive scale; a sense of sickness at the pervasive use of pesticides. This seemed more fruitful and brings to mind some recent experiences:
- I drove to Florida and back for Spring Break and only cleaned my windshield once: when I first came to the US 25 years ago it would have been peppered with dead insects;
- Today was a beautiful spring day and I went for a walk; as a result of thinking about the card and this blog post I was actively looking for honey bees, but I only saw two. Perhaps not a shock today, but I know that there would have been literally dozens, maybe hundreds a couple of decades ago. (I did have a pleasant surprise though: when I resigned myself to not finding a flower with a bee on it to photograph and moved in close to take a picture of the azalea above, a cardinal flew out at the last minute: if you look closely you can see the nest in the middle of the photo!);
- I recently signed a petition to Boycott Monsanto’s GMO’s, not simply because of their effect on human diet, but because I believe them extremely shortsighted and with profound negative consequences on insect populations and therefore the sustainability of much of plant life on this planet.
I am regularly saddened almost to the extent of nausea when I see people stamp on bugs, spray hornets’ or ants’ nests, or otherwise treat insects thoughtlessly and dismissively as less than life. I’m not being naive here: I don’t for one minute expect or suggest that we should all stop and cuddle insects. I understand that they carry disease and that not everyone has the misfortune of having cultivated the kind of awareness that regular meditation has caused in me; rather I’m just being honest. Did you know that close to a million species of insect have been identified of an estimated 5+ million? (This compares with 4,000 species of mammals.) Have you ever really sat down and looked closely at a fly or an ant? they are extraordinarily beautiful miracles of wonder, and are incredibly diverse in size, color…pretty much anything you can imagine!
But I realized, upon reflection, that that was also not deep enough. No, that was not why I broke down.
Perhaps, I thought, it was the Buddhist in me catching a sense of impermanence. There is something magical looking at a flower shimmering so fragile in even the lightest breeze. It is so beautiful, but it will literally be gone tomorrow. And actually – we come to realize when we look closely – its impermanence, its short life are an essential part of why the flower is beautiful. Plastic flowers, concrete flowers just don’t have it.
I realized I was getting close.
I was shuddering with tears because the world we live in is changing so fast. Climate and insects and trees and our oceans are all undergoing dramatic change right now. We, humankind, are a major contributor to that change, but we are also in a sense caught in the change and as out of control as everything else. The world we live in today will have changed into something completely new in a generation. On the one hand I was crying because the suffering and waste is awful and it is reason to invest massively of ourselves in fulfilling our responsibility to treat the world, all species, all people with compassion and love. But on the other hand I was crying because this cusp of massive change on which we sit is a profound call to awareness of the beauty of this time and place; of the awe and majesty of the world and of creation; of our powerlessness in the face of the rest of the universe. I was crying with the joy of being alive in this extraordinary, beautiful world full of wonder and joy and horror and destruction; this world of inseparable birth and life and death. This, then, was my Easter Blessing.
If you’re interested in taking a look at the card, you can do so by clicking here.
But I ask you to do just one thing: next time you see a bug and you instinctively reach out to squash it, please stop and look hard at it. If you can cultivate this as a practice and try to do this again and again, you would make me a very happy person.