I snapped after the 5th day. I have a pretty high tolerance level for ants in our house, but after five days of literally hundreds of them swarming on either side of our front door (and the only way in & out of our house) and flying into the dog's water dish, my compassion and tolerance tipped, replaced by an immediate need to get those ants out of my house right now! So I grabbed the vinegar solution and sprayed all those on the inside by the door and then crushed them as quickly as I could, saying "Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry" the whole time. I felt really bad, but I needed the sanctity of our home returned.
Of course, after the deed was done (and after some additional judicious application of caulk), I felt horrible. I had just acted against one of my deepest values: compassion and respect for all beings, regardless of their species. I'm one of those people who picks up worms off the sidewalk when they're struggling to get to the cool green and brown earth; who moves slugs from our garden to the wetlands instead of killing them; who talks to the ants and spiders as I relocate them from inside our home to theirs outside; who smiles when I see a rat at the bird feeder.
Last night I had another opportunity to test my values when a swarm of about a dozen baby spiders scuttled out of a tiny hole near an outlet in the kitchen and spread across the wall. My first instinct was to leave them. After all, they weren't harming anyone or in the way. But then my husband, John, said, "What if they're hobo spiders?" (which is a poisonous species that hangs out here in the Pacific Northwest). Dang. Now I had concern for my safety to consider. They were too small to identify, so my choices were to exterminate them, or try to relocate them. It would have been a simple task of a couple minutes to wipe them off the wall, but even thinking about doing that made my stomach clench. Relocation it was, then. I grabbed our little spider catcher (an old plastic spice jar) and corralled them into it a few at a time; I took them outside, and, using my headlamp, shook them into a planter box in our yard. I found myself talking to them, reassuring them I meant them no harm. About 20 minutes later, they were all scurrying around their new digs, and I felt happy and at peace.
When it comes to "the least of these" in our world, it's so easy to overlook them, to ignore them, to choose (whether consciously or not) not to consider their needs or interests. (And certainly, when a mosquito is trying to make a meal of me, I don't hesitate to defend myself.) It can also seem, in a world with so many global challenges and so many species and charismatic megafauna in dire trouble, that we have better things to do with our time and attention than consider the fate of these tiny, seemingly-alien creatures.
But if we want a truly humane world, it benefits us all to extend our circle of concern -- and our mindfulness -- to the billions of little beings trying to live their own precious and finite lives.
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