Talking of robot bees, I had a close encounter today with one of the real thing. All bees are female of course (the ones you meet outside the hive, i.e. worker bees), so if I refer to this creature hereafter as “her” then I’m being factual, not a daft sap. I found this one drowning in a pool of muddy rainwater I had just knocked out of a bucket in my mother’s back garden, and the bee’s distress, expressed in thrashing limbs, caught my attention. I put a torn leaf in front of her and she dragged herself onto it. I was impressed by her will to live, because she was obviously in some state. I then ferried her onto a larger green leaf facing into the sun and blew onto her wings for 5 minutes. It took another hour (I was having al fresco lunch just a few feet away with family) but the bee progressively dried herself off and got all four of hers wings working again and finally flew off.
Why am I telling you this? Because it occured to me that if Humanity were wiped out tomorrow then the planet would thrive and improve without us, but if bees died out then the planet and much of its plant life would be in a major crisis. Therefore I posed myself this question: who matters more, me or that bee, to this planet, and to the universe in general? In fact, just who is running this show?
This in turn reminds me of my brother Gavin trying to save baby birds he used to find abandoned in the garden when we were kids, feeding them with syringes, keeping them warm and doing all the right things, but always failing, because it seemed to me that those little creatures had decided they didn’t want to live. Also I was reminded of my brother Robin saving a lamb stuck up to its neck in the mud of a roadside ditch one dark night when we left the pub together in Arisaig on holiday, as teenagers many years ago. Robin ended up covered in mud (which didn’t make us popular with the landlady of the guesthouse we were staying in) and the lamb finally trotted off indignant into the night as if we had inconvenienced it, rather than saving its life.
All three incidents have one thing in common: they are windows into the mystery of what exactly the life force is, that dwells inside all creatures on this planet, and keeps us all going, sometimes flagging, sometimes buoying us up.
There are too many human beings on this earth and we are an environmental scourge, convinced of our superiority and divine right to wreck the joint. Worse still, too often some of us are filled with self-importance, sulking and pouting about how we’ve been ill-treated in life because our mobile phone bill is too high or our shoes just got dirty (Or our novel didn’t get good reviews!).
Contrast that with the heroism of that tiny creature, destined to work herself to death within an average of three weeks, just to keep this planet running. She does this for you, for her hive, for all of us, so that flowers and fruit and vegetables will grow. And in return you build motorways and cut down rainforest. I was impressed with her willpower and gumption. That is the force in charge here. Ally ourselves to it and we each become stronger, share in its power, and find spiritual peace. Oppose it, and we destroy ourselves.
But this leads on to other ideas. It occurs to me that people will think I am devaluing myself in comparison with a bee, but actually my intention is the complete opposite. Consider for a moment the unbelievable scale of our solar system, our galaxy and all the other countless galaxies so far discovered, and the almost limitless universe of which they form a part. In all likeliehood, there are countless other inhabited planets out there with other similar lifeforms to ourselves, engaged in equally life-and-death dramas on a daily basis. We are each brought up to use hierarchical value systems in order to make sense of our surroundings. Put bluntly: Big things are more important than small things, and human things are more important than other lifeforms. But if we turn this value system outwards to the universe we have a problem: we ourselves become so small as to be irrelevant, and our value system collapses.
Here’s the crunch then: if we are so important, then why has the safety of this planet been entrusted not to us, but to the humble bee? The answer to this problem, along with the conundrum of the universes’s vastness, must be NOT that everything is irrelevant, but its converse: that every single thing everywhere, big or small, vast or tiny, is simultaneously equally important.
Think about that next time you walk down the street: all the insects and rodents and birds fighting for their livelihoods, all the other humans as absorbed in their own problems as you are. Then “zoom out”, imagine the cacophony of a whole city filled with all those clamouring cries of life and pain and joy and terror. Think of all the other cities, other countries, then all the other probable worlds. Then remember that there is no hierarchy to it. All of it matters equally at once. Then remember that this is not a depressing or belittling idea but the ultimate miracle: you matter, it all matters. Without hierarchy, there is no irrelevance, no waste, no smallness. That little bee was a giant. And so are you.