On a hike I was on the other day with a friend, we both noticed a young woman ahead of us taking pictures of something on the ground. We came up and she quickly told us that she was watching a bunch of fire ants eating a caterpillar. She smiled at us, got up, and kept going on her walk.
My friend and I then stopped to look at the caterpillar. It was quite the sight.
There was a swarm of fire ants on the caterpillar and the caterpillar was jerking around constantly in response to the red-bodied ants.
The scene was a bit gruesome and in some ways easy to walk away from as “just nature taking its course.” I’ve said that to myself watching some scene on the nature channel as the lion ate the gazelle. Right?
This time it was different though. I felt what it must be like to be eaten alive. It didn’t feel good. So I bent down closer, mumbling that there must be something we can do.
So, I blew on the caterpillar. Some of the fire ants went flying off.
My friend was standing behind me and once I saw some ants fly off, I was buoyed. What if we moved the caterpillar a bit more and blew on it a bit more.
More fire ants flew off. The caterpillar seemed free. I found a stick and moved it over a few feet. And stood and watched as it started to right itself up.
But, then I noticed the scout ants moving in the caterpillar’s direction. I looked at my friend and she now sprung into action. She took the same stick and moved the caterpillar far, far away… It righted itself completely and off it went!
Later as my friend and I debriefed, she told me she thought what I did was an amazing act of compassion. She shared that she was ready to move on, to let nature take its course. And, of course, the younger woman had only taken pictures.
To me, there was nothing extraordinary about the act – I don’t even know if it’s been established that insects can feel any pain.
However, what I did take from this little story, is that the most important thing, was that I felt something. The most important thing, is that I did something. The most important thing, is for us to feel another’s pain. That gives us access to that sweet elixir we call compassion.
Go out and feel!