The weirdest thing caught my eye the other day. A tiny movement. My daughter had a piece of watermelon carefully wrapped up in plastic wrap and put on the side, safe from spoil… except that a single solitary ant was there. It gave me pause, because of the unlikelihood that a tiny creature from nature, should find its way past windows and doors, and somehow hone in on this sweet morsel. It seemed against all odds, and yet, that is what ants are hardwired to do. The ant simply MUST find that piece of watermelon.
I like ants. You can’t look at them the same way as cockroaches or other dirty bugs. Ants are clean, and they have good habits. I looked them up on Quora and someone of course asked if ants ever sleep. They are known to work hard. Destroy an ant hill, come back the next day and see what happened after you left. The ant hill will be right back where it was, rebuilt. You have to respect that. Many ants together do what ants will do, they will intrepidly work their butts off to fulfill their ant-ness. Let’s just say they have a reputation.
Human beings are also interesting that way. There is a fancy word in sociology and criminology called recidivism. It means the rate by which offenders will come back and do the same crime all over again that put them away in the first place. It reminded me of an exchange in an outlaw movie about two brothers. One was setting out on a crime spree. His brother put his hand on his arm and asked if he was afraid of getting caught. He looked up and said, “Everyone gets caught. I never saw nobody didn’t get caught eventually”. Then he went out and committed his crime. It’s like it was written on the wall.
This also applies to matters of love. A few years back I saw Arlo Guthrie in concert. He did a haunting rendition of the Elvis song “I can’t help falling in love with you”. Before he sang, he told a story with a far away look in his eyes, about meeting a waitress. Their eyes locked and the rest was history. It’s an old story and one we all know because of how often it repeats. This particular waitress, became his wife and bore him four kids.
Of course, when I went home I had to look him up. What surprised me, was that Arlo Guthrie’s wife, the one he was married to for 43 years had passed away just a few weeks before the tour. Arlo had literally buried her, and gone back to work. I had to scratch my head, wondering if he was a thoughtless man, but decided that really there was not much else he could do. Seems like the Energizer Bunny, Arlo was the kind of guy you just wound up and let him do his thing. The guy was built to tell stories and sing songs. Human beings for whatever reason, seem to be like that.
His bio added some context to the love song. It seems their marriage had been long but also somewhat stormy. He was quoted on his website; “There are loves, and there are LOVES. Ours was and will continue to be what it has always been, a very great love. We didn’t always like each other. There were moments when we’d have our bags packed by the door. But there was this great love that we shared from the moment we met.” Truly, Arlo could be quoting pretty much anybody who has ever fallen in love and been married. I noted with interest that by the black and white wedding pic it explained that he sang “Amazing Grace” at their wedding. He seemed to know something bigger was going on that he could only express in a song.
For all their joys and sorrows, human beings seem to be a lot like the ant. Hardwired to do what we have to do. Parents know about this. Try to hand out advice to kids and see how far you will get. They will look at you, and you know that on some level they are just going to have to go out in the world and do what they do. It’s hard to have a cogent theory about this. It’s almost like there is a big batch of YOU brewing up on the stove like a pot of coffee, and you will fill your cup to the very last drop, whether it be a gift or a curse. That particular thing which made for the flavour, is exactly what people miss when someone dies. It’s the inexplicable mystery of personality.
In the world of computers, there is software and there is hardware. The software is interchangeable. You can program different things on a computer. Once installed, the software does what it is intended to do. The hard drive determines that. The physical machine takes over because it is hardwired with circuits and connectors to act a certain way. It will play that software as if on a loop until something crashes and the hard drive dies.
I look at human beings and wonder if there was some kind of grand accident that made them like this. But then I look at the ant and the watermelon and think differently. The ant could not do much else but be an ant and it looks like human beings are the same way - hardwired. The ancient Greeks looked at the mystery of fate and wrote comedies and tragedies about it. Maybe that’s the thing. Whatever it is that winds people up and makes them go is both a comedy and a tragedy. Sociologists, criminologists, wise and religious men have been trying to chase down these mysteries for a long time. The only one who really knows is God, and he ain’t fessing up any time soon it seems.