Killing Ants – Exploring Compassion
by Michelle Welch, Phoenix, Arizona
One morning last summer I went into my kitchen and found it was covered in ants. They were everywhere – all over the floor, on the walls, on the countertops, in my vegetable basket, in the cats’ food bowls. I immediately shut the cats up in a back room and fumigated the rest of the house with bug spray, telling myself what I always do when I kill bugs: If it was a cricket, I’d just catch it and put it outside, but it’s ants, and there’s never just one ant. They won’t leave until their food source is exhausted. That’s what ants do. I’m as careful as I can be not to step on ants when I’m outside, but when they’re in my house all bets are off.
The next morning I went into my fumigated kitchen to make breakfast. I opened the salt canister and found one small dead ant, curled up on a blanket of white. It had obviously crawled into the canister to escape the fumes. At that moment my heart broke, imagining the poor thing fleeing for shelter, not knowing it had already been exposed to a lethal dose of bug spray. I felt terrible.
This launched me into a familiar dilemma, one that hits me every time I reach for the bug spray to get rid of an ant infestation, silence that cricket outside my window who’s keeping me awake all night, or – once – putting an end to the wasps who had built their nest above my front door. I feel bad about killing the ants. If I feel so bad, I shouldn’t kill them, right? But I have to kill them. It’s never just one ant. I need to get sleep at night or I can’t function during the day. And wasps in the house are something no one wants. I cling to my logic in a desperate attempt to escape the terrible feeling of having caused the death of a living thing.
But after spending some time feeling terrible, and scooping the dead ant out of the salt, I realized that I don’t have to turn to logic to avoid those feelings. I also don’t have to torture myself with unrealistic (and probably unwise) resolutions to never kill another bug again, just to make myself feel better. I killed something and I feel bad. That’s as it should be. The irony of life on this planet is that every living thing must kill and consume other living things in order to survive. It’s sad and it’s painful and there’s no way around it. Avoiding the pain through logic or resolutions won’t change that fact. There’s nothing to do but accept it. All I can do is feel bad for the ant in the salt canister. And then make breakfast.
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