Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

I smashed an old fly swatter to pieces yesterday. I was working in the barn and there were wasps on a window near me, nasty concave bodies moving in October drunkenness. I’ve been stung mercilessly many times. They seemed near their end, but I decided they needed to die. Then and there. Once I began swatting, a primal energy surged and I hit hard, with speed and precision. The threat of pain. The thrill of the chase. But the swatter was old. The webbed plastic gave way in brittle bits of faded red, leaving me with twisted wire and little else. I grabbed a scrap of cardboard to finish the job. Not a single wasp escaped, but the cardboard was disturbingly intimate. I could hear the crack of each exoskeleton as I administered death.

It is human to fear pain and death. It is human to inflict pain and death. I suspect these truths are intimately connected. When parents hit their children, they claim no delight. But power is reassuring. Forced compliance is rewarding. Intoxicating. Pain inflicted; big to little, many to one, defender to foe, strong to weak—we like to cheer for the underdog but only if the underdog wins. I admire hunters who kneel and thank their fallen prey for sustenance, but I’m troubled by those who catch and release or kill for the trophy, leaving the meat to rot.

The wind has beaten the hell out of our neighbor’s American flag, but it is still discernably there. God gave it a passing glance this morning. This made me want to ask him what he thought of allegiances to such things as flags. But I can’t ask today. God is in another space, attending the funeral of each wasp, chatting with the microbes and spiders in attendance. I declined the invitation, but now I regret it. Mercy and wisdom seem a distant hope as I watch the sleek black cat stalk rodents in the alfalfa.

People speak in similes and metaphors, analogies and opposites, creeping toward a horizon as pathetic as their pride, as fatal as their fears. Our reach exceeds our grasp, our visions cloud up, our longings are selfish and impossible. Somehow, this is as it should be. The final exam will be on compassion, not acquisition. Discernment, not dogma. Practice exams arrive daily, and the study materials are abundant and free.