Sting (written 2018)
Coming out of the garage last week, my hubby happened to look up and made a troublesome discovery: a quite large and active hornets' nest hanging from the eaves. Oh dear!
Now in the past, dealing with this problem would fall inside my husband's domain. He's always been the handyman and maintenance guy in the close to 35 years we've been together. I've been planning consultant, assistant or emergency back up. Final decisions, therefore, were generally his, even if they sometimes fell contrary to my views. Wasp nests and ant invasions...well, there are sprays for that.
So, the hornets.... Because of my Buddhist views I tend not to readily turn to the option of extermination. May all beings be well and happy, even the little creepy crawly ones, or flying critters like mosquitoes and bees and hornets. But in our home, as my husband struggles with his debilitating illness, I take on more of the things he used to do and he becomes planning consultant, a role reversal we're coming to terms with as the months pass. He's finding it easier to let go; I'm finding I'm more courageous about what I'll take on. But this problem went beyond courage about my physical ability to do what was required.
We had spray in the garage. Although I'm allergic to wasp/hornet stings, I have an epi-pen for emergencies, and boots and scarves and coveralls to limit their access if I'm invading their territory.
So whose territory was this, anyway? Our garage, OK. That's one view. Nature in general is their purview. And I try to live by a vow of harmlessness.
Harmlessness. It's not such a simple thing to actualize in life. But it is a true aspiration. I've had interesting discussions with many friends on the general problem of insects. Mostly I try to live with them. We had a resident spider in our bathroom for a number of years. Don't know where he finally moved on to. A solitary ant or beetle or such is pretty easily transported outside. Flies can be shooed out doors or windows with some persistence. Citronella or Off keep mosquitoes at bay and they usually respond to brushing away even if they circle back. I know I kill insects on my car windshield and step on them in the grass. There are hundreds of ways, I imagine, that I take small lives every day. It's intentionality that I'm talking about. I intend no harm. The acts are not deliberate aggression.
Spraying this hornets' nest would be. I remembered a story of a monastery where hornets built a nest overhead of the entrance to a building. Eventually the Abbott of the monastery himself determined to take on the bad kamma of destroying the nest. I spent some time in reflection. Sooner or later, the hornets would feel invaded as we moved in and out of and around the garage. Our cat's home, his private condo, was almost directly beneath the nest. Vague memories of seeing videos of moving nests and fantastical schemes I had about how to do this seemed impractical, impossible alone, and probably dangerous for all participants.
I settled for this: Sitting, I chanted for the well-being of these small creatures. I wished well for them in their continuing journey in Samsara. Then after dark, when they were quiet, I pulled on the coveralls and boots, wrapped a scarf around my neck, made sure my epi-pen was handy and shook the spray can to ready it. It had a powerful stream and the act itself took only moments. But I did not want to trivialize the choice I'd made or the small bodies that I could see piled in the nest opening in the morning. I have been sending metta to those I harmed and to my own wounded self since. These little lives invade my dreams so I know I am still filled with regret.
I don't know what the “right” action was in this case. I know that I acted in the way I felt I needed to for the safety of other creatures and humans in the area, but against my heart's wishes for non-harming. It wasn't only about some flying insects. It was about choosing to take life. I know though that self-harm results when I fall into another hornet's nest, the nest of guilt, so I'll hold to the hand of metta and goodwill until that sting lessens. With my intention for harmlessness no less strong than before, I will soon be able to safely back away.