A Story of Survival

As we transition from our hot summer to a glorious Fall season here in Arizona you may notice that the number of flying pests (I’m not speaking about visiting out-of-state relatives here) are diminishing with the seasonal change.

It seems like we had an overabundance of mosquitoes this year. More than 40 species of mosquitoes are found in Arizona, and I’m sure that my house was visited by many of them. You may wonder what the purpose of these little critters is, since they can be so annoying, but they actually play an important role in our ecosystem. Mosquitoes are part of the food chain and are eaten by bats, birds and even fish. Mosquitoes are also important pollinators.

We tend to marvel at the bright and colorful insects in our gardens, which is only natural. Arizona is famous for our Monarch butterfly migration.

And then there are crickets. Other than the happy-go-lucky Jiminy Cricket from Disney, they tend to be overlooked and under-appreciated. I remember from my time working in Japan that they are viewed as welcomed guests in the house, bringing good luck to all who make their acquaintance.

Spending several decades as an environmental educator for children, I’ve learned to revere all life on Earth, from the great quadrupeds that walk the planet, to the tiniest creatures that crawl or wriggle. With that in mind, I recently had an experience that enhanced my appreciation of bugs.
I was taking my morning shower when I noticed a tiny insect hopping about on the shower floor, startled by the flow of water. I reached for my glasses since I couldn’t make out the shape; hoping it wasn’t a bark scorpion, and discovered that it was a cricket.
My first instinct was to save the creature from plunging down the drain and so I kicked at it with my bare foot, attempting to boot him off to the side where much less water was churning. The cricket, in its instinctive drive to survive, kept hopping, and more often than not landed back in the swirl of water where he was perilously close to vanishing down the drain pipe.

At last, with some slight hope of saving him, I stopped the water and stood there, dripping wet, as the whirlpool of suds circled around at my feet, with the tiny insect spinning and bobbing in the wash.

Once the water had cleared I could see the limp form, lifeless it seemed, and most surely dead from the trauma he’d just endured. I scooped him up, holding that soggy body tenderly and placed him on a paper towel in the bathroom.

I hoped he would survive, but I had no way of knowing.

This drive to live that we can observe in all of nature is one of the great forces of the universe, it seems to me. Our own lives, with the regular human challenges we often face, can certainly knock us around like so many tiny insects, battling a force that seems unconquerable at times.

And yet, most of us do survive. We fight the raging waters and lift our heads up to breathe again and again. And this life force and the compulsion to push on is a remarkable form of energy and perseverance that can be found in all living species. I work closely with fellow cancer survivors, and nowhere do I see this fight to survive more clearly. But as we lift our hand to swat any bug that crosses our path, that same struggle to stay alive is just as clear, and just as urgent.

I placed my Cricket outside in the warming sun, watching and waiting, and soon he began to wriggle those tiny legs, and in a flash he was off and into the garden for another dance through life and to chirp another song.

For a moment, I remembered a few of the challenges I was scheduled to face in the rest of my day, but then, just as quickly, I let them go. Like the Cricket, I had had a sudden, uncanny desire to hop about, sharing for a brief moment in this stellar tribute to the human experience—to ride out the flood; swim against the current…and sing.

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