Finding An Ant: A Metaphor For Life

Musings / Friday, November 25th, 2016

antAs a child, I was fascinated by an ant. I used to be a bit of an introvert, then. I don’t think I have changed much from then, but I have grown to love people, despite my shyness. That time, though, as a child I had a vacant yard next to my house. No one really bothered to grow a garden there, for reasons I can’t fully understand. But then, those were different days. Organic wasn’t a word in the English dictionary, perhaps, and gardening was for the elite. So, that yard used to grow wild with parthenium till the landlady periodically used to hire someone to scythe it off. Incidentally, the parthenium is a weed (I love weeds!), which is also called “Congress” in local parlance. (Does anyone know why?).

This was as wild as it would get in Jayanagar, Bangalore. Moths would flutter, all pale powdery white, and yellow butterflies would leave a trail of guilt on your hands when you tried to capture them. Caterpillars would lounge here and there in season. But there were always ants. All sorts of ants. Red ants. The really small tiny ones that can even kill. The big black ones which were considered to be harmless.

I found this darling outside my house

Then, there were the red ants that seemed to be the big siblings of the smaller ones. These were the ones I loved playing with the most. I would pick one ant up and watch it trace a path all over my arm, then slowly slide it to the other arm. Did the ants bite when I played with them? No. Never. They seemed to love the game.

As a child, I knew no greater absorption than that. That was my world. Me and the ant. Now, as adults, we find that absorption is an art to be mastered. We have to consciously find it. We absorb ourselves on the Internet and the TV. And of course, we are absorbed in ourselves. But wait. How about absorption in life?

So, now as an adult, whenever the stresses of the adult world get to me, I tell myself to go find an ant. Unlike those days of my childhood, ants are harder to find. The red, vicious ones, are easier in the cities. Just leave a trail of sugar and watch where they emerge. But sitting as we do behind our walls in the mind, where do we find time to notice these except when they are an inconvenience? I like to call my search “ant therapy.” Everyone knows ants are industrious, they are busy, but have you seen how fragile their life is? Their lifespan varies from four years to 12 years, but in reality, they are just one moment away from being crushed by a careless boot. These days, the search for an ant has become the moment of absorption itself. I love the search itself, the time when you can still your mind from its incessant ramblings, and you focus on this: An Ant.

When I asked my friends on Facebook to see if they can go and find an ant, I was surprised by the responses. Touched. And overwhelmed. One of my friends from Chennai, Sheba, who is a runner, went running behind an ant in the morning. “This was the best I could find. He kept running away,” she laughed. Another friend, Venkat, said he took an entire day, but in the end, found an ant in his hotel room in Mumbai. Yet another ant made an appearance from the sink in Seema’s house. Hers was a story of disappearing ants. “Talking about ants, I had this story where my entire bed would be filled with red ants during the day and I would be scared to sit on it during the day. But could sleep peacefully at nights. I would wonder how they would disappear at night.” Wouldn’t it be nice if our thoughts did the same too? Disappear during the night and allow us to sleep peacefully? Vignesh from Sri Lanka ended up being fascinated by ants and wished she could live like them one day. Jeanette from San Antonio, Texas, found an ant on her running trail, much to the consternation of her fellow runners, who also had to stop suddenly to wonder what she was looking for on the ground. My family in Texas didn’t find an ant, but found me a fish, instead.

fish in texas
Karen’s fish

Dorothee in Germany went searching for an ant, found some rain, and sent me a picture of that moment when the trees and the sky hung together.

germany forest

When I read these posts, I was filled with gratitude. I was filled with a sense of wonder that we can push ourselves to see the unseen, to notice the smallest things in life, that we can above all, rise beyond our self, and convey to another a singular act of beauty. I realized that Facebook need not be a passive medium of glorification of parties and posings, but can be used to connect us on the one plane we all understand: The plane of humanity.

I thought then that life is just this. Finding the little moments amid all the big moments we worry about. If we have the time and the desire to find an ant, surely, there is life yet in our big ol’ hearts? Surely, we can find in these little beings the ability to thrive. To rush heedlessly despite the dangers. To live knowing we may be crushed, but knowing that it’s important to live, anyway. Of what else is life but the finding of an ant? Have you found an ant today?

3 Replies to “Finding An Ant: A Metaphor For Life”

  1. I love looking out of the window on flights. There’s something so sweeping about just seeing the skies while being on the sky! I am so happy you joined the ant experiment!

  2. Inspiring thought – living life by loving those small moments ! I recall tremendous joy and awe when I peek out of my flight window during my travel ! So happy to have been part of this ant experiment 🙂

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