A Letter To Ants
by Heather Caliri
I swore I wouldn’t use poison.
The kids, you know? Also, the smell of the spray gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s sweet, cloying, with a hard chemical edge.
Last year, when you invaded in the dry days of August, we got diatomaceous earth from a friend. It’s a white powder that some people use as a nutritional supplement, but it happens to destroy exoskeletons. We sprinkled it hither and yon, and poof!–you were gone.
Or was that because the weather cooled down?
Anyway, this year, thanks to the California drought, you invaded in May, not August. And I got right on the diatomaceous earth—no idea how to pronounce that—and the next day, you were gone.
Until I left the dregs of my sweet tea on the counter. And you came back.
Since then, you’re always here. Scouts on the counter. Trails snaking over the bathtub. I can feel you lurking behind the walls, in the cracks of the floor, in the minute space between the cabinets.
I parry, you thrust. I clean, you find the one crumb of sugar I left behind. You appear in irrational places, clustering in a sink upstairs. Where there is no food. My husband makes a joke about the half-eaten hamburger he left in there, but I feel dizzy from the idea that you will mass anywhere, for no reason.
I joke with a friend that the kitchen has never been so clean. She chuckles, leans against a counter, and then abruptly jumps away because there are more ants. The scouts are around even when the swarms are not.
“Ugh!” she says. “Get off of me.” She sweeps her hands down her arms as if contaminated.
It is constant, my vigilance. At first, I thought I would conquer. But now I see this is hubris.
I flick one of you off of my leg as I write.
I’ve been thinking about my journey of faith recently. How the truest parts of my faith came in the midst of awful messes.
Over and over, the trouble arrives. At first, I think: I can handle this. I think I’ll just keep on top of things. Besides, things will get better soon. I am sure that my ever-present vigilance will be rewarded, that soon order and success will prevail.
But when these storms of trouble hit they are relentless, aren’t they? They wear you out. Sometimes things don’t get better right away. Sometimes the meaning is a long time coming. Sometimes meaning isn’t forthcoming at all. Sometimes you find out only afterwards that the control you thought you had was part of the problem. The control is poison, if you will. The absolute solution turns out worse than the plague.
Oh, I am fond of a solution, an airtight plan, always thinking that outcomes are under my thumb. I love to believe that good intentions and upright thoughts manage this world.
But you keep coming, a black swarm, over my carefully sanitized life. You get in through all the cracks.
Ants, can I confess something? The relentlessness of your kind has been a kind of baptism.
Somehow, when you undo my control, you put me back together.
You come in certain seasons, no matter if I’m prepared, and I’ll admit it, even the worst poison won’t extinguish you. Wikipedia claims you form a quarter of the biomass of this earth. You are laced through the ground I walk on.
Perhaps the problem is not you. Perhaps the problem is my assumption that I can outlast your scouts, overcome the pourousness of these walls, be sure my home is impregnable.
Nothing is impregnable, in this life.
Look, ants, you are not welcome. I will keep the counters clean, I will sprinkle that fancy white earth, I might even go buy ant traps. I won’t invite you in.
But I will try my best to stop believing that my plans are any match for you. I will stop blaming myself when you get past my defenses. I will think of the great, grave God, who made your tiny, lithe bodies with the strength of Samson. I will thank Him for you, the swarming lot of you, and be ready for you to leave come the first rains.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago, and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Get her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-perfectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs, on her blog, A Little Yes.
Ant image is from here.