Thankful Tuesdays: Ants
Has anyone ever said something to you that kept playing over and over again in your head? Has the thing that they said ever been something hurtful? Well, today someone I deeply care said that I was so deeply scarred that, he suggested, maybe I was broken. He compared it to someone who had a limb removed. They might still get the urge to use the amputated limb but it was gone–no matter how hard he tried to use the non-existent limb, he would not be able to do so. Because it was gone. Broken.
This same person, whose opinion has mattered for a long time, has said this very thing more than once. That I’m broken. I’ll be honest — this one really hurts. It hurt the first time and it hurts now. Broken means pointless. Broken means worthless. Broken means easily forgotten and/or discarded. Maybe it hurts so badly because it’s easy to believe. I mean, I can’t very well dispute the inadequacy of my interpersonal and especially intimate abilities. I’d be lying to myself if I said I was very good at either of those things; me, I’d rather just acknowledge it. So, maybe the reason it all hurt so badly was because it could totally be accurate. So I hear this accusation that I’m “broken” and inevitably want to crawl under a blanket and cry. Hopelessness and intense sorrow crashes through me in waves.
What’s the point, I ask myself, to try? After all, if something is broken, then it’s destined to fail. Why bother putting my heart out on my sleeve again if the effort is going to backfire sooner or later? Not very much criticism affects me on a personal level–but this one does. This one makes me very sad.
It did today too. Until we took a blanket and went to the local park with a picnic. We sat down and opened up the small Ziplock baggies and started to eat. We chatted as usual. Then I looked over and beside us, at the base of a large oak tree, were about three or four black ants. My first thought was the food. We moved up to the picnic table and kept eating. But I kept feeling drawn to observe the ants. So after we finished and the girls rushed off to play, I got down at the base of the tree and watched the ants. As I did, my knowledge of ants begin filtering through my brain.
Here is what I know about ants.
1. They are fast. In fact, so fast that if a grown man could run the same, he’d be as fast as a racehorse.
2. They are organized. Most species of ants build mounds in dirt or sand to live and tunnels under the mounds that lead to different rooms that each serve a purpose: one is a nursery where eggs are looked after while another is a storeroom for food.
3. They are social insects. When a Queen bee dies, her colony usually does not exist more than a few days. Ants are social insects–they must have their colony to survive.
4. Queens are the only fertile females–they can produce millions of eggs before they die.
5. Ants do not have long lives — they usually die within 45-60 days of hatching.
6. Ants are small but very strong. They can carry up to 20 times their weight. In other words, if a 2nd grader was as strong as an ant, he would be able to lift a car.
7. They have 2 stomachs. One is for digesting their own nutrients. The other stomach is to hold food that they will share with other ants.
The longer I watched the ants, the more fascinated I became. They don’t have luxuries. They work. Their entire purpose is to care for the colony as a whole. There is no “I” in an ant’s life: it is all about “we,” all about the family, the team. When they die, most of them will not have ever obtained much personally. They probably were never someone’s pet. They lived with up to 40,000 other ants their whole lives. They worked hard and dangerous jobs where they constantly had to defend their lives against not only other animals but also a stupid human’s shoe. Most of them won’t even have had their own children because all the females except the Queen are sterile.
But they have lived worthwhile lives. They were important because what they did helped sustain an entire colony. They were selfless and they were brave and they were strong. Maybe they were sterile but they definitely weren’t broken.
The ants helped give me hope. Maybe I am not as strong as an ant. Maybe there are still areas in which I have trouble. Maybe I even fail sometimes at giving those I care about enough. Maybe sometimes the sense of self-protection makes me wary and overly cautious. Maybe it is hard for me to truly trust another person. And maybe I still have thoughts that severely limit a healthy life, like “an act is an act is an act.” Maybe it is still much easier for me to believe something negative about myself than positive. Maybe so.
But I spend every waking moment exerting 110% for those I care about. I might fail to successfully meet their needs and wants, but it is never for lack of trying. And I fight hard to bring traumatizing memories that hurt the well-being of my relationships to the open in an honest attempt to best it and let it go. Yes I was hurt. And what many do not understand is that there are types of trauma from which we never completely heal. I can “rise above” all sorts of things but you can’t simply reverse or erase fundamental beliefs you’ve had since childhood. Frankly, I’m not sure you ever become a person who is completely, honest to God unaffected, even a little, by the events that shaped you. While it is of course possible to obtain peace and prosperity and even major healing, I doubt it’s possible to never have your past influence, consciously or unconsciously, a single decision or thought. Does that mean I’m broken? Does it mean that no matter how hard I try to consciously fight those ill-rooted beliefs and ideas, I’ll never be able to give enough–enough passion, enough heart–to bring genuine happiness to another?
Until I watched those ants today, I was scared to death that the answer was yes. But now I think it is no. As I said, ants never know genuine joy. A human has about 100 million brain cells–an ant’s has 250,000: they aren’t capable of the kind of cognitive processes we are. They aren’t capable of seeing the reason for the elephant grass. They are just focused on survival.
But I’m not.
I am capable of looking at a belief and deciding when it is reasonable and when it is a product of lies. It may take time, and grief, but I am capable of acting against inaccurate beliefs if I am motivated and given enough incentive, care and compassion. I am able to put on different glasses and say: “Maybe this is the way I should look at this situation.” I don’t forget and sometimes childhood doctrines make me scared and act so. But I am more than those childhood doctrines.. I am a mother who is working overtime to ensure that her daughter share not a single one of those beliefs. I am an advocate who is learning more and more that her potential is greater than she’s ever given herself credit for. And I am a recipient of God’s added grace and strength. While it is true that I may never fully heal, while it is true that I will never regain all of what was lost, while it is true that I have to consciously work at accepting “normal, healthy” attitudes… I am okay. And all that has been lost, all that has been taught, makes up only a part of me, not the whole of me. I am cautious and very particular about who I allow close to me. But my walls are not impenetrable, my defenses are breach-able. I may be flawed but I am loyal. I may be flawed but I genuinely care, and make it a point to prove myself worthy of another’s time and affection. Like the ant, self-protection matters but mainly because my ultimate goal is the protection of the entire family unit. I don’t ask for much–listening to my story isn’t necessary; I can live without romantic gestures or fuss. All I ask for is affection and compassion–and love. Because ultimately I’m no different from anyone else– we are all seeking approval, remembrance and love. And we all have experiences which sometimes get in the way of finding those things.
I used to believe that solidarity was required, because no one wanted a “broken” woman. No one wanted to know. No one wanted the bother. But the ants reminded me of all I do have–not the least of which was the time to sit and observe them. I work hard for the security of my “colony” (read: family) but, unlike the ant, I am also given the time to enjoy them. I used to tell myself that even though I wasn’t good enough, I’d make up for it with gifts, with devotion, with creativity, with sheer effort. I’d be everything to everyone so that everyone would have a reason to want me there. The ants made me remember that it isn’t necessary to be perfect, it isn’t necessary to carry the entire responsibility for the success or failure of friendships and relationships alone. As long as I am true to the emotions I feel, and to my heart, then I will find that I am needed–even wanted.
And no one needs or wants something, if it is broken.
The comment hurts my heart because it sounds like the truth. It makes me want to stop working so hard to overcome a past littered with all sorts of pain. It sends wave after wave of nauseating hopelessness through the marrow of my bones. But ultimately, the female ants are sterile–but serve an important role in the colony. Without that “broken” ant’s work, the colony would be at risk. Broken means dispensable but if all the sterile ants were thrown out of a colony of ants, no one would be there to forage for food or to care for the eggs or to defend the Queen. The entire colony of multiple of thousands of ants would die without its “broken” members. Likewise, I have to look at my girls and believe that I am important to their emotional and physical well-being. I have to look at the readers who have talked to me, or emailed me, and I have to accept it as truth when they tell me that the words have played a part in their healing, that the speeches and stories and blogs have truly mattered in their lives. I have to believe that if I die tonight, someone would be sincerely grieved. I have to believe I matter, just as I am, to someone. And if the ant helps support the entire colony, she is not truly broken. If I matter to someone, anyone, then I too must matter. I can handle a heavy load, and still remain not only upright but full of spirit too.
So this Thankful Tuesday is for the ants who reminded me that no of us are insignificant, all of us matter, and are loved. Even, perhaps, me.