The combination of the unseasonably cool night air and the sizzling hot tub really helped calm my nerves. You see, I have just over two days until I fly to New Zealand for the first time. It's not my first trans-oceanic journey (I have crossed the Atlantic at least 8 times, and the Pacific twice), so the flight alone doesn't scare me. As someone who has never really feared dying (I think my greatest fear has always been loneliness) a 22 hour flight holds the same significance as a 15 minute car ride. When you calculate the odds, the road trip is probably infinitely more dangerous...and I'm just guessing at that, so don't judge me if I'm wrong. But I am thinking that the flight to another part of the world, one that takes me about as far away from my family, friends, and familiar places...that's something that's secretly terrifying.
And so I deal with it, as I normally deal with things, by remaining silent, organizing things, and getting tense. My muscles contract, my movement patterns shorten, and my mind begins racing. I make lists, I check things over and over again, and I have vivid yet fleeting dreams. Usually, the best way to calm myself is through dancing, or exercise, or (to be honest) a couple beers. I have such a low tolerance for alcohol, it only takes a couple... Before you decide that I drink myself to sleep, know that I maybe consume ten drinks a month.
I was all out of beers, and I didn't feel like going to the gym, so I got in the hot tub around midnight. I put on the latest episode of Orphan Black, and tried to let my body relax.
It's still early in the spring here, and it's been cold and rainy, so the insects/mosquitos weren't out tonight, although a brief appearance was made by the local long-haired female cat that makes the rounds from country house to country house. I always bring her a handful of food when I see her... She's quite friendly, and just a beautiful lady of a cat...so I'm sure she eats ten handfuls of cat food a day around here. Anyway, in the absence of biting insects I was allowed to relax. I cleaned up my stuff and carried it into the bathroom to take a quick rinse afterward, and as I was standing there, I noticed an ant on my eyelashes.
Of course, I didn't really know it was an ant at first. I saw/felt something on my eye, and I put my finger up there quickly to brush it away. When I brought my hand down, there it was. Just a single little red ant, sitting on my finger.
I looked at it for a second, and for some reason began to feel really bad for this little guy. Here he was, in a strange place, all by himself. Nothing familiar, nothing kind. Well, that's not entirely true. He had me.
I actually decided to speak to this ant. I said, "Hey, you...if you stay right there, I'll take you back home." And I walked out of the bathroom, through the kitchen, the dining room, and out the back door. At each stage, I expected to see him gone - either to see him crawling up my arm, or missing entirely. But he stayed in the same exact spot...waiting patiently.
I walked over to the hot tub (the lid was closed at this point) and gently puffed a light breath of air toward my finger. When I checked back, he was gone.
As I walked back to the shower, I started wondering about the decisions we make on a daily basis and if they are part of a greater purpose. No, I don't mean "God's plan," so all my religious friends can just simmer down a second and stop thinking, "it's time to witness to him!" It's not and never will be. I'm speaking about the continuation of life, of energy, and of the connection between living beings. In a millisecond, I could have smashed that tiny ant on my finger, brushed his lifeless body onto the floor, and forgotten about him forever. In that ant's point of view, I was immeasurably powerful. But I felt a connection, a sense of protective urgency, to return that ant unharmed to his home. It was as if a great responsibility had suddenly been laid upon my shoulders, and I had no choice but to follow it.
So I started wondering - what if my entire reason for living was to save that one tiny ant's life? Now, one could debate that, if I were not in the hot tub in the first place, the ant would not have somehow climbed onto my head...but what if my purpose was to be there to choose to preserve a valuable life, even if it holds little intrinsic value to a larger organism like myself? Little value...at least as long as we don't stop to take a moment to appreciate another living creature for what it is outside of its value to ourselves.
Another thought - what if it WAS my purpose to save this one ant, and now that task is completed? Is the rest of my life pointless? Or is my purpose to be continued... What if I am merely connecting with my continued responsibility as a living being to respect, nurture, and coexist with other living beings, no matter what size and shape? What if I was the ant...what would I see as my sense of purpose? How would I have viewed this interaction tonight?
And I remember quietly the first time I looked out over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from my ship (the USS Arleigh Burke.) In every direction...water. Above me...air. Below me...water. Far above and around the air and water...the universe. And it reminds me...
The greatest concept I have learned in my lifetime is a sense of perspective.
Tonight, I was the powerful being with the responsibility for preserving the life of a smaller creature. In two days, something much larger than myself will hold that responsibility. And perhaps, somewhere out in the universe, on a scale much, much greater than that of the Earth, is some other living being deciding whether to smash us against its finger, or carry us safely back to the hot tub.