• Melissa Volker

The Buddha and the Wasp

There have been words milling around my insides for a while now, but they couldn't find a place to land. Politics and social issues abound and I have many deep and passionate feelings about them all, but every time I faced a blank page I thought: "It's Already Been Said", "It Won't Make Any Difference", "I've Written About That Before".

And so the page remained blank.

Maybe I didn't really want to write anything political or social. But if not, what were the words banging around inside cloaked in ambiguous shadows? I couldn't find them.

Then came the Wasp.

I'm not a bug-a-phobe (or whatever it's called) overall, but I do prefer that things like spiders, ants, and in particular the barb-wielding pain-bringers stay out of my house. The world is big, with plenty of space for them all. They don't need my space. A quick swipe with a tissue and flush down the toilet normally took care of it.

But a strange thing has been happening in the recent past.

The Buddhist within has been rising to the surface and I've been unable to kill any little creepy crawly that I find within our comfortable abode. From isopod to house spider, jumping spider, black garden ant, or insanely large shield bug, I've found myself rummaging through Tupperware containers and grabbing a piece of cardboard so I can capture the invader and set them free.

Even for the occasional bee or wasp that finds its way onto our enclosed porch, I will do the 'please don't sting me I'm here to help' bob-and-weave to get the top half of the window open and try to coax them in the direction of freedom.

This is somewhat astounding since when I was three I was stung in the forehead by a wasp after the neighborhood boys thought it would be funny to thwap at the paper nest in the tree. So I Don't. Like. Wasps.

And yet -- all I see lately when I go after these tiny interlopers is a sense of fear as they scurry away from me. Every living thing has an instinct to survive and so runs from death. Whether actual fear is involved or not, I am increasingly unable to avoid projecting that onto their reaction to me.

And I cannot kill them.

So when I came upon the Wasp buzzing around inside our catio, I stood staring at it a long time trying to figure out what to do. The catio is a little space…a screened-in platform against a porch window, the same dimensions as the window opening and just big enough for a cat to sit upright with a bit of headroom.

It's not big.

I considered the Tupperware and reaching in to try and trap it against the stapled-on screening. But then what? I'd have to put half my body in to attempt to slide a cover over the opening and if he got out I anticipated a concussion-worthy egg on the back of my head as I yanked myself out before the little weapon he wielded found me.

If I was even successful.

I watched him bounce off the screen looking for the way out, wondering why he didn't just go back the way he came. That would be helpful because I cannot figure out how they are getting in. He buzzed and bounced along one side, up over the ceiling, over to another side, resting from time to time and reaching out with his little, probing antennae.

Try to refrain from injury to living things.

That is the Buddhist way, but has become more prevalent in my own mind as of late.

But I really didn't see any other alternative. I waffled. I and stood, contemplating. A dull ache was beginning at the base of my skull.

I didn't like it, but I didn't see any other way.

So when he dropped down into a crevice between a fold in the screening and the platform, I went outside with the wasp spray. He was wedged in a corner where I could spray but not get it in the catio. A quick press on the trigger and a shot of white foam obliterated my view, but in a few seconds, there he was, struggling out of the suffocating pillow and struggling up the screen.

It was already evident what was happening, and I watched a moment as he fought his way to the top again, grappling across the screen overhead. He only got a short way before he seemed to lose his grip, hanging on by only his front legs, then not even those as he fell to the floor of the catio. I didn't want to see, but felt somehow I owed that.

It is my doing, after all.

He curled in a half moon, twitching, and at that point, I thought I'd paid enough witness and pulled myself away, sour stomach and all. I left the can on a shelf on the porch and went inside, leaving the window to the catio closed. In a little while, I'd go back and sweep out the carcass.

Try to refrain from injury to living things.

But a half hour later I went back and the poor thing was still twitching, little legs contracting and letting go, his curled up body spasming.

No. No. Not okay Is all I thought, my gut turning over, throat tight. If he had to die, it should have been quick. No suffering. If I must cause injury, I should at least cause no suffering. And in spite of my aversion to those little black and yellow striped pain machines, I felt…sick. I don't like them, but all any of them out there are doing is trying to survive. To live. Maybe they don't feel fear, but do they feel pain? I would think so.

I tried not to think about it.

Try to refrain from injury to living things.

I watched this wasp and felt immensely sorry. Sadness. I was upset that I made him suffer, and I needed to end that suffering. I felt silly that I felt anything at all. I wondered why I suddenly had the need to humanely save every little unwelcome guest in our house rather than just disposing of them with the heel of my shoe. Maybe it was because it feels like there is enough hate and violence in the world without adding to it. Even in the smallest way. There is certainly more than enough sadness. I wondered if maybe the part of me the feels its way through the world without my even paying attention has had enough of all that and wants to counter it -- even in the smallest way.

I wondered about that while sweeping his convulsing little body into a dustpan, cursing my part in it all the entire time, my chest stupidly tight as I dropped him outside on the driveway. Then, while only partially looking, ridiculously overwhelmed, I apologized -- to him, to nature, to the universe -- and smothered him in white pesticide, walking away without looking again, hoping that now it would be swift.

Not wanting to see if it wasn't.

Sorry for my part in the suffering.

I'm not sure where this bubbled up from, or why it has done so now. While I have always been sensitive, easily moved, wounded, these days if I think too much about how every living thing is only trying to survive, I find it almost impossible to indiscriminately take their lives no matter how I might feel about them.

The Buddha in me finds it heartbreaking.

Maybe it's because I've had enough.

Even if it's a Wasp.


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