A Story About the Ants in My Bathroom Sink
Musings from Day 6 of Self-Quarantine
It has now been one week since I moved back from university, marking the sixth full day of social isolation. It is great being back home, especially now that the weather is getting nicer. My family is all back together, and we are still enjoying each other’s company. One thing I did not miss, however, was the small cluster of ants that live in one of our bathrooms. These ants have been here for a few years now, and trust me, they’re not going anywhere.
I used to make a concerted effort to eliminate them — killing every ant on sight, every time I visited the bathroom. My theory was that eventually, with steadfast determination, I’d exterminate them. I was wrong, yet I continued trying. Some days I could kill upwards of thirty without getting up from the toilet. I‘d think there was a problem, yet some days there would be none.
Returning to my home now, in such a tumultuous time, I have gained a new perspective on these ants. After returning from spring break in early March only to be told I had five days to vacate campus, I subconsciously adopted a new mindset about the world. Stories of death in Italy, a place from which a few of my studying abroad friends had just evacuated, began to seem more real. Events that were occurring oceans away were now happening to me on my own semi-suburban college campus. How could this be true?
Perhaps it was induced by anxiety, or perhaps it was the OCD I’ve experienced intermittently throughout my life, but when I returned home those ants had a new meaning to me: life. How could I, with the brief movement of my hand, decimate 10, 15, 20% of their little population? What did they do to deserve such a fate? If I were living in nature I would have been able to peacefully coexist with these ants — each creature in its own place within the ecosystem. Yet because human beings live in houses, an inappropriate place for ants, they had to die? I realize this argument hinges on an imaginary equivalence between humanity and antanity, yet the fundamental points still apply. If I squash an ant with my finger, how better am I than the virus we so despise? In both scenarios we see one life form telling another “there’s only room for one of us.”
And so I became profoundly sad. I wondered which ants had families, and what they feared the most. Then I belittled myself for such childish thoughts — ants aren’t humans, they can’t think and feel emotion like we do. Then is it only our ability to think and feel emotion that separates us from ants? If we are all bound together by the common denominator of being alive, are we truly separate at all? From this perspective, thinking and feeling emotion are simply bells and whistles of existence:
Yes, they are great and enlightening.
No, they are not essential to life.
In this time when death may seem like the only thing there is to think and talk about, we must remind ourselves that the one thing that makes the world what it truly is is the magnanimous life hosted upon it.
Why draw a barrier between creatures that don’t deserve to be killed, like dogs and other humans, and those that are acceptable to be killed, like ants?