I killed a bug tonight--squished him with the tip of my index finger--on page 31 of Dinty Moore's The Accidental Buddhist, right over the word "for" in the sentence,
"Bouncing from my zafu as if my buttocks were metal springs
and sprinting for the line once more, I come in second, just behind Wayne."
The "insecto-cide" was involuntary, having only meant to brush the offending bug from the page, but the force of my clumsy finger proved too great, and I ended up putting a small brown smudge across Dinty's fine words. The irony of smashing a bug onto the page of a book about Buddhism was not lost on me, and I actually laughed out-loud, a moment of insensitivity about which I still feel the tiniest twinge of guilt.
I don't remember when I started really caring about insects, spiders, mice, and other small creatures but it had to be sometime after age 11 because I remember when I was 10 that my brother and I spent the better part of a week feeding ants to spiders who spun their webs in the twisted poles of a wrought-iron gate outside an old home my father was remodeling. We helped Dad move lumber, hold tools, and run electrical cords but there was only so much my brother and I could do so while we stood around waiting to be helpful we found ways to keep ourselves busy. The spiders were fat, the ants were scared, and we were entertained.
As an even younger boy I can remember filling mason jars with hose water and turning the jars upside down over the tops of bumble bees that were collecting pollen from dandelions in our backyard. It surprised me how long the bumble bees would last buzzing underwater like furry, spasmodic fish.
But something happened as I got older. I heard a story about a group of Mormon pioneers shooting squirrels out of a tree for sport, and their leader Joseph Smith stopping them, scolding them, and saying something like, "Don't hurt even the smallest of creatures if you don't have to." I'm not exactly sure how the story went, but that's how I remember it now, and though it was hardly profound when I heard it as a teenager, it still affected me. It simply hadn't occurred to me that small creatures deserved our respect. I started opening the window and coaxing house flies to freedom, sometime spending several minutes guiding the mindless insect to fresh air. I decided that I would never hunt for sport (not a terribly difficult decision since no one I knew ever went hunting), and I devoted myself to the defense of small creatures everywhere. On more than one occasion, full of all the self-righteousness my teenage body could muster, I scolded my insect-smashing friends for their hedonism, and my sister, who routinely called me into her room to deal with a spider on the ceiling that she knew would crawl all over her in the middle of the night, had to deal with me trapping the spider with a paper plate and a plastic cup so I could carry it outside and shake it into the lawn.
There is one animal however, who has never, and will never receive any sympathy from me. The cockroach. During three years of living in Japan I had enough run-ins with roaches to know they were undeserving of any special treatment. In fact it just took once opening the silverware drawer to retrieve a spoon and getting a scurrying, oily cockroach instead for me to realize how much I HATE COCKROACHES.
I marvel at the scriptures I believe in, the truths they want me to accept. The flood--no problem. Jonah and the whale, I'll buy that. Samson and Delilah, Isaac and Abraham, sure. But there's one story in Genesis chapter two--one part, actually, of the creation story --that dumbfounds me.
18 ¶ And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field;
Adam, our first father, the first prophet, the first man on the earth got to name all the animals on the planet and when the cockroach came up for naming, he didn't raise his hand, and say something like, "Um, are we sure about this one? I mean come on." Where was the cockroach's place in paradise? Even in the garden of innocence, one would think Adam might have been able pick out the cockroach for the bottom dwelling parasite it would become.
Perhaps that's why our Father in Heaven, with his infinite wisdom, had Adam preview the animals before the whole forbidden fruit incident. He did create the cockroach after all, and who am I to question divine design (Among the first questions I think I will ask upon arriving in Heaven will be, 'What was the cockroach's role anyway?') Perhaps Adam and Eve, during those first hours of blinking mortality on the outskirts of Eden--with there new found awareness of good and evil, virtue and vice, joy and sorrow--were thinking differently about their garden, the tulips and tigers and each other. And maybe Adam thought of the cockroach, and the words of God's curse came back to him, and for the first time Adam thought he might know what enmity and sorrow really meant.