Parasites

In the murky gloom of predawn, I consider parasites. Parasites deplete but do not replenish. The host gains nothing and in most cases incurs harm or loss. Given the lopsided nature of this arrangement, most hosts do not choose to be hosts. But there are some who willingly agree to these sometimes-temporary sometimes-deadly conditions. Parents, for example. Women during pregnancy. And God.

“I love a cheerful giver,” The Ultimate Host says. “So I try to live up to my own standards.”

“I appreciate that,” parasitic me says as I sidle up for a hug. It’s good to be grateful. Hosts are not easily replaced.

And I’m welcomed as I knew I would be. The lap of Ultimate Host is warm, innards glowing with love, her earth resplendent with abundance and beauty. I take heart because her planetary systems continue to spin, even as humans blithely carry on with their deadly extractions. She offers me hot chocolate and ginger snaps. I snuggle in.

“I think you’re oversimplifying your equations, honey,” Ultimate Host says.

I make an indeterminant noise and burrow in further.

“Of course, there are givers and takers in any given moment,” Ultimate Host continues. “But it goes far beyond the physical realm. If you weren’t on my lap right now, I’d be missing something. I’d be sad.”

“So, by taking warmth and comfort from you, I’m giving you something?”

“Yes,” Ultimate Host says. “Long ago, I chose to let creation matter to me.”

“That makes no sense,” I protest. “You’re beyond time and space, sufficient unto yourself.”

“It may seem that way, but I’m willingly defined by consciousness, relationship, and choice.” God pauses, then adds, “And you exist in my image, defined by consciousness, relationship, and choice. You are both parasite and host.”

Ultimate Host wraps parasitic me in the finery of being alive. After a moment, in a firm voice, she says, “So what are you?”

Reluctantly, I say what I know she wants to hear. “I am both parasite and host. I am defined by consciousness, relationship, and choice.”

As daylight arrives, a gunshot startles me. It’s hunting season.

“I didn’t ask to be an omnivore,” I tell God as I get dressed.

“I know,” God says. “And I didn’t ask to be God.” I wonder if the bullet hit home and if the resulting meat will be eaten with thanks. I wonder about weapons and butchering and factory chickens, evil and good, taking and giving. I put on my down vest and head out to feed the piglets. They will be ecstatic. I have homegrown carrots to offer.

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.