I’m not even sure why I did it. I was taking a break on my evening bike ride when I encountered a cup someone had left on the bench. Ants being ants, being drawn to the sugar were unaware it would almost certainly be a fatal decision. Without thinking about it, I was soon absorbed for, I don’t know how long, in trying to extricate several ants from hardening toffee smothered ice-cream. One I was able to immediately shake loose. A few others were beyond hope. But for three of them, for that short period, it became the preeminent activity for me to free them. Maybe someone else wouldn’t have even bothered, picked the cup up and just thrown it in the bin. They could’ve left the cup and not given it another thought. But somehow, for me, the lives of those three ants suddenly meant everything. Why?
I know, as I worked, I was spurred on by the anger I felt for the person who’d left the cup with not a thought to what could happen. It boggled my mind. But then again, as I gently tried to pull away the stickiness from legs smaller than a couple of millimetres, I had to wonder. Why did the life of three ants matter to me so much anyway? I was able to free one, but for the other two, there really was no hope. The day after, a few ideas began to trickle into my mind as to why I’d given such a relatively large effort for fairly little gain. Then again, was it so little gain if I was able to spare just one life?
We will all move on when we die, yet while we are here, life is one of the most important elements of our time on earth. I’m one of the people who honour and laud all lives, no matter how small, for I believe we are all a part of the whole. So, to me it doesn’t matter if you’re the size of a bus like our cetacean friends or as small as the smallest insect—your life matters. It is a sentiment shared by many, from various First Nations groups, in Buddhism, Hinduism and several others, they espouse an underlying interconnectedness amongst humans, society and nature. Our lives are one.
So maybe in the seconds in which I decided what to do, in my mind, those small ants fighting for life somehow transformed into something greater—a symbol of the essential spirit and vitality that enlivens all of us.
If I zoom out for the moment, taking in a much broader spectrum, I see a world that appears, for the most part, to care very little for nature. From this perspective, nature is perceived as being very distant from ourselves and often something to control, conquer for others. I can point to an assortment of intractable problems that confront nature, amongst them habitat loss, the loss of species and diminishing biodiversity, or maybe the assault of pesticides, emotionless and uncaring in its onslaught.
For those of us who care, it seems inconceivable that the people pursuing their economic pot of gold put so little thought towards the consequences of their actions. The “cents” they make, makes no sense. The work many of us do, to all degrees, may very well be valiant and heart-felt. Still, one sometime feels like the mythical Sisyphus, condemned, for all eternity, to roll a rock up a steep hill, only to have it roll back. We’re getting nowhere it sometimes appears. But then, we turn the idea around and around, gazing from every angle, hoping to capture a glimpse of something that will reveal a way forward.
When I ponder those few moments I spent that afternoon, I certainly lamented the loss of some of the little ants, but I rejoiced at the thought I was able to save two of them.
And I realised that it mattered because those two little lives are indeed a part of the whole— all of nature—joining those of every stripe, furred, feathered or otherwise, not to mention those who are much larger or even significantly smaller.
So, when I saved those two small ants I was essentially also acting towards the betterment of all of us, as we are all ultimately one on this planet. I cannot separate myself from the others who inhabit our world.
For those fifteen minutes, I put my heart and soul into making a difference for those ants. Someone may say, “ants? Why bother?” In response, I would say, at that moment, for me, those ants were representatives of Life, all our lives, regardless of their size. Surely that is something venerable and worthy enough of my time.