The Virus, The Spider & The Bee

Do you ever see a bee on the sidewalk that’s immobile or else barely moving? I do, all the time. And I always pick them up, warming them in my hands and with my breath until they are able to fly away (their bodies can’t function below a certain temperature).

I also go out of my way to save bees when I see them drowning in swimming pools or getting caught in the surf at the beach; or when they’re stuck indoors desperately trying to get out through a closed window. It’s magical to see a previously stuck or dying bee rev to life and zip away into the sky. It is simple, gratifying rescue work.

This personal care and affinity for bees is partly why I have a bee tattoo on my knee. 🙂

It is also why a recent bee rescue event made me ponder a new lesson in life, which inspired me to write this post.

The world is currently at a standstill (relatively speaking) with the coronavirus pandemic. Many people, myself included, are quarantined at home in order to flatten the curve of viral infection in our communities and around the world.

Taking action against the spread of COVID-19 has meant that everyone’s personal habits and lifestyles have changed dramatically, very quickly. Even so, not everybody adjusted to the same level of precaution at the same pace. Before social distancing had officially become a thing in my home town, I found myself facing personal conflicts about the right thing to do. I had to ask myself hard questions about where the new boundaries were and what my role was in implementing them. Admittedly, in the first week of self-quarantine, I struggled a bit with my conscience… Until clarity came in the form of a majorly failed bee rescue.

It started when a bee flew into the house, straight to the kitchen window where it buzzed all over looking for a way out. Bri to the bee rescue!

I made an attempt to corral the bee onto my hand and then when that didn’t work, I grabbed for a cup. As I reached for the bee again, it got knocked down to the windowsill, where it landed in a spider web. The spider occupying the web acted instantly, locking onto the bee with its pincers.

My instinct was still to save the bee, so I frantically bumped it out of the death trap. Strands of web had wrapped around its legs and wings. I untangled it and carried it outside. But when we got into the open air, the bee didn’t fly off. Instead, it started stumbling around in my palm, dazed. Uh oh. I tried to set it in a flower, inadvertently covering the bee in dusty orange pollen. Crap. I laid it gently down on the sidewalk.

A line of opportunistic ants quickly discovered the bee, their antennae feeling out the potential feast. Crap again! I couldn’t let it get taken by the hoard, so I moved the bee once more. Laying it down on a rock, I watch helplessly as it succumbed to the spider’s poison.

I felt sad, as well as shaken up, and morally conflicted. Every attempt I’d made to help this little creature had met with a mini disaster. And, in the process, I had interfered with both a spider’s lunch and an ant colony’s meal. Although I was coming from a place of compassion and empathy, striving to do the right thing, I just seemed to mess it up for all concerned.

I suddenly saw myself, a well intentioned but klutzy presence in the web of life, bumbling up against nature’s flow. My efforts, positive though I meant them to be, were possibly doing more harm than good. 

This incident by itself was enough to shake up my awareness, because it was so striking and so odd in the context of my usually high success rate of bee rescue. But the shaking up continued. Over the next two days, I witnessed more bees that I was unable to save, that I found either dead or dying. What the hell was happening!?!

Meanwhile, the coronavirus situation was escalating. I felt similarly sad, shaken, and morally conflicted about it.

As I contemplated the sudden shift in my experience with bees, I realized that a similar paradigm shift was needed to handle the changing social landscape around the virus. My “aha” was that the usual right thing to do was not the right thing to do, at least right then. So I stepped out of the action. I denied others contact with me and my space. It was weird. It was counterintuitive. It was critical.

The virus is doing what a virus does. Just like a spider eats an insect caught in its web; just like ants find food for their colony; and just like some bees fail to return to the hive. Nature does its thing, life goes on, and balance is eventually, ultimately restored. 

Humans have a strong tendency to throw that balance out of alignment, though. Even when we have good intentions, we often miss the mark because we aren’t thinking about the whole picture.  

I think one of the most profound aspects of life right now is getting to see the bigger picture, and recognizing just how profoundly interconnected we all are. Simple everyday actions, like hand washing and avoiding going out in public, could save a life. And not washing our hands, or being with a friend who isn’t a quarantine buddy, could have the potential consequence of sickness or even death to someone else.

This virus is showing us in no uncertain terms that we are all inextricably linked together, in everything we touch, in the very air we breathe. 

It’s important to keep that in mind, as we reconsider our roles and places in the web of life.

***

Note: After writing this post, I went out for a walk to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Not long into the stroll I came across a bee on the sidewalk that looked dead. Upon closer inspection, I saw that its antennae were still barely moving. After hesitating a moment–thinking hard of my recent life lesson and consciously weighing the right thing to do–I scooped it up. Cupped in my warm hands, the bee reanimated within seconds, and quickly flew off into the cool spring air.

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