For several weeks now, I have been walking around my garden first thing each morning, ignoring its beautiful blooms, walking by the vine ready vegetables and herbs, with one thing on my mind. Murder.
Yes, it’s those Japanese beetles that have me seeing with such tunnel vision. I walk around with a bucket of soapy water in my left hand, a plastic lid from a quart of yogurt in my right hand, and seek to knock the little bugs into the soapy water. When I’m lucky, three or four of them are cavorting on one leaf and I can get them all in at once. Most days I end up with around 20 or 30 of them writhing in the suds.
It is a little scary to find this ruthless side of myself, taking delight in the death of other beings. Well, not delight exactly…but, yeh, joy. I want them dead. I want them gone. Every last one of them. I WANT THEM OFF MY GREEN BEANS!
Someone told me—erroneously, as far as I can see, that the stench from the dead bugs, if they are left sitting in the yard, discourages more of these beetles from coming into the garden. So not only am I constantly murdering these little bugs, I am then leaving them to make a kind of dead bug sun tea, sitting on my little meditation bench right by my three foot garden statue of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Boddhisatva of compassion. I imagine that Kwan Yin is not delighted with my behavior, but suspect she has seen much worse.
It’s funny how we all –well, most of us anyway–make peace with the violence in our lives. For the most part, I eat meat that’s local, organic and where the animal had a good quality of life…does that make the violence any less when the animals’ lives are taken? I use all kinds of leather products without a bit of guilt, but would never consider a fur coat or hat.
And, aside from the damage of those chewed up leaves, and the stench of that sun tea, my garden is a place of joy, beauty, and sustenance, not only for me but for many neighbors who walk or drive by just to savor it. After I’ve done my murder detail, I relax and weed, harvest, and take delight in the color, texture, and life that makes a garden.
In the garden, in my house, in my car, I have no illusions that all of my contributions to the planet bring peace and love for all. With my behavior towards the Japanese beetles, I can’t say this keeps me up at night (though I do wish the beetles had a different name. A name which is also a human nationality makes me think of people who are Japanese, and I hope that I am not somehow participating in hurtful behavior towards them by using the name Japanese beetle, but it’s the only name I know!)
I’m keeping a quiet tally in pretty much every area of my life—I drive a hybrid car so I can feel good about using less gas (as I drive pretty much anywhere I feel like going, whenever I feel like going). I have central air conditioning, but I only use it when it’s going to be over 90. I mostly shop at thrift stores (for whatever on earth I feel like consumingI) I am constantly balancing. Bargaining, balancing, tallying, and always wondering what the score really is that measures what I am contributing to the planet.
I remember a New Yorker cartoon from some years ago. Two men are in a very fancy restaurant, in suits. One says, “I do a lot of pro bono work to make up for all of the anti bono work that I do.” And for some reason, I feel better when I remember the movie made a few years ago about Al Gore, back when he was traveling around warning all of us about global climate change. As compelling as his talks were, as frightening as his predictions were, there he was boarding plane after plane, being driven around in giant cars, guzzling up the world’s resources to tell us. There he was.
And here we are! As I make my way, seeking to find balance in an imbalanced world, I am grateful for friends who accept me just as I am, and who remind me to have a sense of humor about myself. Yes, I only bank at a local credit union with great politics, but I never turn down a Diet Coke. Sure, I try to live from a place of love, but I can be right there for whining or for gossip. And while spiritual community means the world to me, don’t take away my computer solitaire!
Good luck to you, my fellow earthlings seeking balance. May our care and respect for one another, even in our deep inconsistency and imperfection, keep us ever seeking the path where we can find more life together as a people on this beautiful and fragile planet!