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Short Stories: Living Life Like an Ant

black ant

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise!

— Proverbs 6:6

 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.

— Proverbs 30:24, 25

Several weeks ago, we took a vacation to southeast Ohio, a trip that turned into a disaster and left me in a precarious mental state (from which I have not recovered). Please read I’m Back From Vacation for further information about our trip.

One evening after we returned from our trip, I told Polly I wanted to go to the Jubilee — a fair and carnival that has encircled the William’s County Courthouse in Bryan, Ohio every June of my sixty-five years of existence. The Jubilee is a shell of what it once was, an empty reminder of glory days long since passed. Declining attendance and exorbitant prices likely will doom its existence sometime in the future. When I was a teenager, the Jubilee was THE place to be. The square would be packed with people. I typically went to the Jubilee every night, hoping to run into my friends. We’d eat high cholesterol, sugary food, ride the Ferris wheel or Scrambler, flirt with girls, and horse around.

The Jubilee has a deep, sentimental connection with me. Not so for Polly. She never liked going to the Jubilee. Of course, always having toddlers and children in tow will do that to you. Polly knew that going to the Jubilee might be good for me mentally, so she said “sure, let’s go.” We put on our go-to-town clothes, lathered up sunblock, got $60 from the ATM, and parked a couple of blocks away from the Square. Bethany was with us. I thought she might enjoy riding a couple of rides. She did, though Polly was not as excited since she had to ride with her. They rode the Ferris wheel and the carousel.

As I stood nearby watching them, I looked down to the ground and saw a big black ant. He quickly captured my attention. Long-time readers know that I love ants. My grandchildren are not permitted to kill them. As I watched this ant scurry about, I thought about his brief and dangerous existence. Here he was scuttling around, searching for food. All around him was danger, particularly thoughtless humans who wouldn’t give a moment’s pause before crushing his insignificant body on the sidewalk. Everywhere this ant went there were obstacles to avoid; threats to his very existence. With nary a thought (do ants think?) about the existential threats around him, the ant continued to look for food. For a few minutes, the sounds of the causeway faded away and my mind was focused on this diminutive, yet magnificent creature.

My mind went to the Bible, Proverbs 6:6: consider her [the ant’s] ways, and be wise. On this hot summer night, this ant had a lesson to teach me, reminding me that life is short, filled with danger, and all I can do is embrace my life as it is. I too am scurrying about, hoping to meet my needs and make it to another day. The threats to my existence are very different from those of the ant, but they are just as real. I know that I am running out of time. Days, weeks, months, or even a few years from now, Polly will post a final article on this site, announcing my demise. I’ve embraced my mortality, realizing there’s little I can do to stave off the inevitable. So how then should I live?

On the ABOUT page I give this advice:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Eight years later, I stand by this advice.

I continue to lose dexterity and motor function. These losses constantly chip away at the things I can safely do. Sometimes, I do things I shouldn’t, tempting fate — much to Polly’s consternation. Most days, I recognize my limitations. I am ready to die, but I prefer it not to be today.

This ant taught me a lot about life, about being focused on what matters. While I am still in a difficult place psychologically, a black ant did give me a brief respite from my struggles.

Thanks, Mr. Ant . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, this is beautiful! I have long been convinced that we need animals—whether pets or the ones scurrying about freely—to teach us how to be human.

  2. Avatar

    Critters are the best. We have a mom and baby deer living in our backyard. It gives us a lot of joy seeing them when they return from their forays.

  3. Avatar
    Jeff Alan B

    Let me be silly for a moment. What if we are ants too? Waiting for a giant foot to come from the sky and crush us.
    As far as your mortality I do not want that day to come when all of us here receive that fateful news.

  4. Avatar
    Jaqen H'ghar

    Valar Morghulis. All creatures must die. Annihilate death by stop reproducing. Or continue being ants (and cockroaches).

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