He is in drag—bright red outfit, black accents. Me, I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, watching. Have been separating egg yolks from whites, plopped four golden globes into the cereal bowl on the counter before it became a race track for the ladybug in question.
I watch the little red racer continue his mad dash. How like me. To think I am are getting somewhere, that things are changing, that if I just keep moving ahead with energy everything will eventually level out, conspire to help me reach my goal. How like my society. How like my world.
If life is a balancing act, the ladybug is doing a good job of holding his own, living on the edge. What if he spirals inward, goes toward the center? He may discover gold at the heart of it all—or drown in depths he has no business plumbing. What if he spreads his wings? He may remember he can fly. What if I squish him right here as he rounds the bend? He may experience the harsh reality that not all survive, that there are no promises, that life is short, that death comes to us all.
And what of me? What does this experience hold for me?
Thirteen years ago I came out to myself as a gay man. I continue to circle some of the same issues: Am I good enough? What is my place in the world? Who can I trust? Why do so many hate those who are different? Why do some people survive and others die before their time? Does my life have any meaning? What really matters?
In the cosmic scope of things, my journey through life begins and ends before the lady bug makes one lap around the rim. In truth, I am a beetle on a bowl, an unknown ladybug of indeterminate gender and doubtful intelligence. I am nothing and less than nothing.
Or maybe not. Life is so complicated and so interwoven that what one does may affect all. It’s been dubbed the butterfly effect, the notion that a single insect in the Amazon rain forest flutters its wings and sets off a chain of events that results in a hurricane pounding the gulf coast.
Maybe it is of vital importance that this ladybug run his race at this place in this moment. Maybe a world hangs in the balance. He’s certainly moving about as if it does.
I live in the tension of these two seemingly opposite beliefs: that I am dust—absolutely insignificant—and that somehow, at the very same time, the choices I make every day are of incredible importance, fraught with consequences I cannot begin to imagine.
According to Native American tradition, the actions of those who came before me, as far back as seven generations, exert a felt influence on my living. Included are my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, up to my four-times-great grandparents, many people whose names, lives and stories are lost in history, absolutely unknown to me, stretching back to the early 1500s. Perhaps they are shaping my experience of life. By the same token, the choices I make today may influence the lives of those to come for seven generations into the future. By my calculations, someone in 2508 may be saying, “Dang, I don’t know where it comes from, but I find myself circling this same issue again and again. Makes me feel like a bug on a bowl.”
Maybe nothing I do matters. Maybe everything does. Maybe the best I can do is good enough. Maybe no action, undertaken with intention, awareness and energy, is ever without impact in the world.
This essay appeared in The Letter, October 2008