Bumbling toward consciousness

The other day I found myself hunched over the wet grass in front of my house carefully teasing out dead bees from tangled strands of green—hundreds of bees that had rained down in a grim circle.  I had nearly filled a large paper cup with them, working two plastic spoons that I’d grabbed as tools for this arcane and morbid task, when two passing women stopped to ask me what I was doing.

Too discombobulated to think of a plausible story, I told them the truth.  And so we got to talking about the puzzling things in life which then led to talking about my pervasive and surreal feeling that we’re all living in a shared lucid dream, in response to which they invited me to their scriptures class.

While my soul does not currently whisper for me to go to scriptures class, I deeply appreciated the two kind women and their abiding faith and was left feeling that although we travel upon different bridges, we’re indeed making our way to some common island (of oneness or collective consciousness or love… or maybe even to annihilation)—some elusive yet ever-present place where the spirits of dead bees live amongst us in the here and now.

About the bees… a week prior my nine-year-old nephew, Charlie, was swaying on the little rope swing I’d made for my boys when we first moved to our house, back when Will was just turning six-years-old and Nate was eight.  Charlie pointed up into the high branches of the Chinese elm toward a massive swarm of bees clouded amongst the arching shade.

Although I love and appreciate nature, bees offer a complex challenge to my dual role as protector of my family and potential parent to the wider world, including the honey bees and mixed vespids.  Both Will and I are allergic to bees.  We have been allergy shot buddies for over five years, and Will has had bad luck with bees:  he stepped on one and got football foot on the very first day of a camping trip; he stepped on a bee in the first moments of his birthday party in the bouncer—football leg that time; after tests at the allergist showed him to be off-the-charts allergic, he was forbidden to step outside without shoes… and so he stepped on a bee in the middle of his grandmother’s kitchen.  Two other stings, and two other ruined holidays for him in the past, all added up to an immediate call in the present to a friend who’d just had a bee expert out to wrangle up a swarm of disoriented bees in her yard.

The bee-keeper came out in the context of saving the hive and transporting it to a safe place.  Alas it turned out that the precarious placement on the far branches meant that he had no choice but to spray the hive… if we just left it he assured us it would result in the busy bees nesting somewhere inside our house, such as the chimney.  A horror story about a hive suddenly appearing upon a dining room chandelier, with bees swarming in every room of a house, was enough to get me to sign off on going full Pol Pot on the hive.

Being LA, of course, the bee guy was no ordinary bee guy.  With four episodes on the Nature Channel (“Man vs. Vermin” or something like that) under his belt, we also got a full nature lecture on bees.  With friends and family visiting, it became an event and an education.  Charlie was especially thrilled to see stingers and death, the rest of us needed some guilt-easing talk, but we all knew that the bees are disappearing and that we humans are the chief problem.  Matt, the bee guy, explained that the hive in question had most likely been recently kicked out of its former location and the drones who had been carrying the queen ran out of energy in our tree which was where they were temporarily based until they could set up permanent residence in our house (probably under Will’s bed).

Talk about loyalty, it turns out that if the queen dies, all the rest of the bees will just die—they won’t move on, they won’t endure, they’ll just eat the same poison that killed the queen and then die.  Poetically or metaphorically speaking, the bees are a part of us and so a part of us had to die (a small piece of the collective, of unity consciousness) in order to protect another part of us (the child, but also the Will).

Even though it seemed that this bee genocide had to occur, I was deeply disturbed by it.  As much as I would like to stand for love and light, my hand was forced and I had to be the one who ordered death, who wrote the check, who could not say “I did not know” in some future bee Nuremberg.  And so I did what any neurotic Jewish psychologist would do in my situation—I got sick.  I thought it might have been my brother’s not-quite-cooked chicken, or perhaps too much wine… but in the middle of that dark bee-ghosted night I felt markedly unwell and I knew that the hive was haunting me.

Upon regaining my sea-legs the next day my neck went out.  Messing with bees is serious business in the depths of the soul (at least in the soul that hovers somewhere between the caring and the frankly irrational).  I tried to honor the bees and their spirit, but a week later I found myself out on my lawn gingerly placing dead bees into a cup.

Even if we were not exactly walking the same bible, the kind women who had stopped to inquire and chat respected my wish to give the bees a proper burial.  We bid our good-byes and I made my way to the far reaches of the back yard.

Shovel in hand I dug in the place where Mr. Scrunchy had been laid to rest along with Big Charlie who had been mauled by crazy-eyed Frankie and departed to wherever it is that guinea pigs go after they’ve munched their last basil, the same hallowed ground where Oil, the goldfish that Will got from the magician who conjured him for his sixth birthday, now swam with the other deceased fishes.  Alone and solemn, I returned a paper cup cornucopia of bees to the earth, and wished their spirit for forgiveness, harboring the fantasy that their spirit might vivify my wishes to embody loyalty and collectivity, even in the face of dark and puzzling things, of suffering and of a world in painful flux.

Matt, the bee-guy, had framed our situation in terms of bees protecting their territory by stinging, and me protecting my territory from them.  There are still plenty of bees all around our yard, and I am well aware that the flowers and the fruits and vegetables would be toast without bees.  Thus I struggle, vaguely Hamlet-like, with guilt and my recognition of the Shadow that sometimes has to do what it has to do, making sense to itself, but not always to the bees.

I write about this, partly to try to better understand my own feelings and to learn what I can from dark and seemingly unavoidable doings.  I also write about this because parenting brings out something fierce within us, like the famous mother bear who will savagely attack whoever comes between her and her cubs; I do not harbor malice to the bees, but my love for my child could not allow the added risk to his safety that comes not with a few bees but with an enormous hive.  Yet in my mind it is not a large leap from getting rid of bees one day to justifying war or other acts of social destruction the next day.

I’m not entirely convinced that I shouldn’t have done more—maybe hired a crane and a team of bee doctors without borders; but I can also see how too much projection and sentimentalizing about bees might lead to overlooking children and other humans in our eco-system merely because they are not perched in my tree where I must deal directly with them.

We keep being told to “be here now” and I just wanted to add that there is a dark and stinging aspect even to the best laid plans and the softest and most open intentions.  I thank the bees and choose perhaps to take their spirit of collectivity, loyalty and sacrifice (while maintaining the ability to sting and protect their queen as well as make honey) as a guiding principle as I move forward as a human trying not to do too much harm.  Then at least the death of those bees is potentially a ritual and a sacrifice out of which some sort of enhanced consciousness might grow.  After all, I know that I will be dead soon enough, the question for all of us is not about death, but about how fully we might choose life.

On that note, I say, thanks for bothering to read to the bitter end of this potentially venomous post—and please join me in sending a good wish to the bees, dead but also living, who we depend on for virtually all of our food at some level, even if some of us are allergic to them, and in sending a good wish to all our collective children who we humans must protect and put first, while owing a great debt to nature and to earth.

Namaste, Bruce


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5 Responses to “Bumbling toward consciousness”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    This post is mesmerizing, Bruce. Far from venomous, and for me, timely. I am also allergic to bees though have become less so as I’ve gotten older. No shots required, but one of the reasons for a lack of floral garden in a very flower-friendly locale.

    Even more timely, because the past year has brought squirrels, mice, roaches, a swarm of ants (just 3 nights ago), and more. And while I made light of my sons trying to catch the mice (and squirrels) humanely nearly a year ago and then again last winter, at a certain point it becomes “them or us.”

    My own fight for survival lives on many planes; physical limitations (flaring up again recently) make environmentally-friendly precautions virtually impossible for me, alone. But the latest onslaught – the swarm of ants – had me calling the Big Guns, and they were here yesterday, and coming back shortly.

    Yes, they’re bringing death to all manner of critters that are common around here, along with a bill I’m hard-pressed to deal with. But I will tell you, having tried to do this humanely (and failed), I will choose the sanctity of my territory – physical and emotional – over the ants, the mice, the squirrels, and whatever else might be dealt with.

    This is where I raise and care for my young. This is my tiny piece of turf. I hate killing anything, but when you feel invaded to the detriment of your health (your sleep, your sanity), you do what you have to do.

    We are indeed part of one great and complex system, but in our consciousness, we make choices at certain times in order to survive. I am not losing sleep over this – except for the money, though I will say I inquired at length about the toxicity of the chemicals being used, their impacts on other creatures (not just human), and so on.

    How you write so eloquently about bees astounds me. One more homage you pay to them, in doing so.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Interesting to learn that we have further synchronicities in common, particularly sensitivity to bees. I thank you for kind words and wish you well with all your struggles. BTW, just as the bees had to go from my tree and the ants from your place, it’s worth noting that ants, at least in certain fairy tales, prove incredibly helpful to unlikely heroes for whom they typically perform some sort of sorting and gathering task (i.e. getting scattered barely back in a sack by sunrise) and thus allow the hero to advance.

      In times of alienation and bleak circumstances, we might be well served to take the spirits of the ants, even if some ants have to die, and use that spirit to heal collectively as humans and as tenders of our planet.


  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    One more remark, an “aside” really. Bumbling was not lost on us. Even in retelling this tale, your wordplay was a bonus. (A game of virtual scrabble anyone?)

  3. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    This was a moment of church for me. So, maybe the ladies who invited you were actually extending their invitation in order to reach my hands.

    I actually cannot write at the moment, so taken am I at every level by your utter humanity. And BEEness.

    The ability to Be.

    That is the question you’ve grappled with. The Shadow. The Light of love which drives a family forward. When they clash?? oy.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    A parent to the bees. Doctors without borders to their hive… I’m coming back to this one.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thank you for these words, Rebecca—they move me and set up the church between us. Your compassion comes strongly to me and creates the very sort of connection in our collective spirit for which, I believe, we all yearn—somehow striving to live in love with our world.

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