By Carmelene Meanie Siani
“The First Precept: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.” ~ Hanh
When I brushed my teeth this morning I saw a lonely little ant crawling around in the sink all by itself. My inclination was to take a handful of water and wash him down the drain but I stopped myself.
How would you like to be washed down the drain, I thought while also thinking that there were so many people in the world who in fact, like that little ant, had a great hand somewhere—terrorists, ICE, decisions made by governments—casually pouring water over them, washing them down the drain.
I remembered reading in the paper ages ago about a young, newlywed couple who had been among those killed in a plane that was bombed.
“They wouldn’t even kill a fly,” the parents were quoted as saying. “Literally, if a fly was in the room, they wouldn’t kill it; that was how much they respected life.”
I’ve never forgotten that, now anonymous young couple’s legacy, as told by their parents, or their commitment to life and to respecting it—even to include a fly’s place in this cosmos.
I told my husband about the ant in the sink and about my thoughts about not killing it and how it had suddenly become for me a metaphor for the helplessness of so many people and he casually—and rightfully—reminded me that maybe I was being a bit too romantic and that I wouldn’t have felt the same way if that ant were a cockroach.
I guess it’s okay to kill cockroaches.
“I if I am going to preach to myself about people dying like flies or people being washed down the drain like ants, I better preach to myself about how some people are deemed as cockroaches and that even to me, cockroaches are killable.”
I am reminded that in his treatise For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts (1993), Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“It is important for us to stay in touch with the suffering of the world. We need to nourish that awareness through many means — sounds, images, direct contact, visits, and so on — in order to keep compassion alive in us.”
Maybe it’s not such a stretch for me to be thinking about ants and cockroaches. Maybe it’s the universe’s way to help keep me “in touch with the suffering of the world.”
“I don’t kill cockroaches,” I say defensively to my husband, “I trap them so you can kill them.” But he doesn’t kill them either. He scoops them up and throws them outside. Gross as it may seem, I can’t actually kill a cockroach because I can see it’s suffering — its little legs and wings quivering and retracting in pain.
“Life is precious. It is everywhere, inside us and all around us; it has so many forms.” ~ Hanh
I can’t see such suffering in an ant so I save it and don’t wash it away down the drain. Later that morning I went into the bathroom and couldn’t find the ant.
“Thank God,” I think, “it’s gone and all I have to do is comb my hair without having to make any more existential decisions.”
Editor: Dana Gornall
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