Last week a small ant crawled across our kitchen floor. It was fast for such a tiny thing and I wouldn’t have seen it, or noticed it, or been able to give it much attention except that Tobias’s eyes grew larger as the speck moved between his feet. And soon, as curiosity became fear, my son’s large response gave way to an impulse I regret.
I squished the ant. And then, just as thoughtlessly, waved my hands to say, “all gone.” And so it was.
The reflection of course came after; when Tobias wanted to see that little creature move again. Wanted to see it take shape across the floor and magically travel large expanses between tile flooring as if it had done this before, as if it had a before and would an after. But the ant was all gone and I couldn’t bring it back.
How does one explain the fragility of a body, any body, to a 19 month old? How does one explain the thoughtlessness with which we often treat those bodies?
In this month of embodiment I offer you the words of David Wagoner, in a poem written to the students of anatomy at Indiana University.
That gaunt old man came first, his hair as white
As your scoured tables. Maybe you’ll recollect him
By the scars of steelmill burns on the backs of his hands,
On the nape of his neck, on his arms and sinewy legs,
And her by the enduring innocence
Of her face, as open to all of you in death
As it would have been in life: she would memorize
Your names and ages and pastimes and hometowns
If she could, but she can’t now, so remember her.
They believed in doctors, listened to their advice,
And followed it faithfully. You should treat them
One last time as they would have treated you.
They had been kind to others all their lives
And believed in being useful. Remember somewhere
Their son is trying hard to believe you’ll learn
As much as possible from them, as he did,
And will do your best to learn politely and truly.
They gave away the gift of those useful bodies
Against his wish. (They had their own ways
Of doing everything, always.) If you’re not certain
Which ones are theirs, be gentle to everybody.