A few weeks ago a Queen Paper Wasp started hanging around my kitchen window. I stood at my sink and watched her work. First she affixed a bit of wasp glue and let it create an ever so elegant drip, the point of which expands daily.
She’s building a nest.
I know I should get rid of it. I know it’s not safe to have her and her coming family in the courtyard where Cole and the cat play. But I can’t bring myself to destroy her home.
I’ve let this go on too far. I have too much respect for the work she’s put into weaving this nest. And I wonder, does she sense the danger? Does she harbor some sort of mamma wasp anxiety that a Big Bad is lurking in the shadows? Does she know that I am the Big Bad?
Killing this nest is an inevitability. At some point, I am going to crush her work and the little ones living inside. At some point in the very near future I am the thing that will kill her dreams. I picture her out scouting materials and food then placidly flying back to my window only to find her home and her life’s work gone. I imagine the crack in her reality, the wrenching scream because a scream is all she has left.
Perhaps I am over-identifying.
I hear whispers of these imaginary cries when I swat too hard at an ant and it gets all bloody; or when I smack a mosquito against my arm; or don’t get all of the cockroach’s antennae all the way into my bug catcher before releasing it outside.
Herein lies the ethical quandary: what do I have a right to kill in order to stay alive? Animals for food? Perhaps. Mosquitos who are annoying and itchy at best but might carry disease? Seems an easy enough “yes.” And what about dreams?
I wonder if I can move the wasp’s nest. I wonder if I can transport her life’s work to a more suitable location. I wonder if I can change my dreams.
Obedience, one of the Benedictine vows, is rooted in obaudire, which means “to hear.” The vow of obedience is a commitment to stepping beyond one’s limited view and open to the voices of community. At the same time, it is also a commitment to one’s own integrity. This isn’t blind obedience to the will and direction of others. This isn’t unwavering allegiance to one’s own agenda. This is sacred obedience. Sacred listening. This is pausing to listen for the voice of God. And being open to hear it from the most unexpected places.
The vow of obedience is in conversation with the vow of Conversatio Morum, daily improvement. We don’t just listen once. We listen daily, hourly, in each moment. We pay attention. Through listening we learn to respond to the shifting circumstances of life. Through listening we become like the wasp – driven by an instinct, a dream bigger than a dream, a voice bigger than our own that says, “Do this.”
I did it.
I knocked the small nest off the casing with a broom handle then squished it with my sandal.* Mama wasp was back at dinner time running here, there, and everywhere about the upper window pane looking for her babies, or a place to rebuild.
The killing act was easy. I wonder if all Big Bads feel this detached.
Spring brought on a little depression, and with it the Big Bads who whisper their conviction that everything in life is futile. Especially dreams. But even though it feels like an effort, I am back at my desk writing. I am on my mat breathing. I am here. I am listening.
And again. And again.
Where are you? What do you hear?
*Disclaimer. This is probably not the best way to handle a wasp’s nest. Perhaps I should have called the property management company to send out pest control. But I also just accidentally sliced my finger open on a can of black beans and had to get stitches, so there you go.