In early August, late one Sunday evening–August 7 to be precise– I was gathering habanero peppers.
It was hot and I was tired. The pepper plants were short and so, to avoid bending over, I’d plopped myself down and was sitting in the grass, picking peppers off one plant at a time. I would gather all the orange peppers off a plant, then scoot down the row to the next one. My ungloved fingers reached into the foliage to snap off a pepper, guided by the orange glinting between the leaves.
One Habanero came with a grasshopper.
As is my wont when I have occasion to encounter an insect the field, I paused to consider the creature more closely. I’ve always enjoyed observing certain insects: bees, grasshoppers, spiders and the like, getting up close to study the details of their features and watching them work.
It had been quite a long time since I’d seen a grasshopper up close. A couple of years, perhaps.
I studied the way the the body parts connected, hinged like a suit of armour worn by knights. I noticed minute hairy-like extensions on its legs and torso. The little feet were more like bird’s feet than I’d realized. In fact, I thought the grasshopper looked very much like a miniature dinosaur.
The grasshopper in the photo with this post isn’t the same type of grasshopper I encountered on the habanero day, but one I met on my back porch several years ago. Anyway……
I slowly raised my gloveless left hand, the one holding the pepper pod, and moved it closer to my face, turning the grasshopper toward me so we faced each other.
The big grasshopper eyes were looking directly into my own.
This grasshopper seemed as interested in me as I was in it.
After a minute or two, the grasshopper reached a front leg forward and touched my gloveless finger. It eventually moved both front legs onto my finger. I’m not sure if it was sensing the sweat and salts on my skin, or just curious. It continued to look at me and I looked at it.
“Well, hello, Grasshopper,” I said out loud. “It’s very nice to see you. You are lovely. Thank you for not jumping away.”
Yes, I talk to insects (and animals). No, I’m not batty.
Like A Child….
I simply refuse to adopt all of the boring, so-called “adult” ways of viewing and engaging with the natural world. Actually, I did assume a stiff, adult posture for awhile (on the surface) to “conform” but it didn’t take long to realize that little kids are the ones who have it right, not the people wearing suits and uncomfortable shoes and spending most of their waking hours under fluorescent lighting. But I digress…..
I teared up.
Yes, I do that, too, especially when I’m looking at something amazing in nature.
The whole encounter with the grasshopper lasted maybe 8 or 10 minutes. I made eye contact with the grasshopper for a long time, before it turned its focus to exploring my finger.
After I recovered a bit from my emotional response, while patiently watching the grasshopper move about between my finger and the pepper, I thought about the old Kung Fu show, where the teacher admonishes his young student, Kane, “Patience, grasshopper.” [I once wrote a blog post about how that mindset was getting me through a rough patch in my job.]
I thought for a moment about Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper and, for a flickering moment, thought that perhaps I was being wasteful spending my time watching a grasshopper, rather than diligently performing my farm chores.
I caught myself falling into the trap of self-judgment….I’m good at that.
On that day, however, I decided to view the grasshopper’s visit as a gift to remind me that patience and simply being is usually more fruitful than one of the things I’d been battling for a long time, was the busy-ness of life rather than doing the few things that really make a difference in how things turn out.Patience and resting in the moment is often more valuable than striving to be and do.Click To Tweet
I also reminded myself to look up something about cultural symbolism of grasshoppers, because I sensed that this particular encounter with a grasshopper on my finger meant something more than an insect on a pepper. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the specifics of grasshopper mythology, but I had an inkling there was something more to grasshoppers than mere symbols of frivolity or plague.
I wrote in my journal later that August night:
…I sat there and looked at it for a long time, just looking at the detail and it looked at me, studied me, put its feet on my finger. I was overwhelmed with love for God and his creation.” I also added a task to Monday to-do list: Write a post about the grasshopper.
Delays, Delays, Delays
That was 29 days ago and I’m just now getting around to writing the post. I should point out that another 23 days have passed since I wrote the previous sentence. I had intended to come back, re-read later that day, or maybe the next morning and never got around to it.
In all, I’m hitting publish some 58 days after the grasshopper showed up on the habanero in my hand.
My initial reaction is to ramp up the self-loathing for the delay, which was simply due to not wanting to go back and read the finished draft and make any minor edits. I’m fighting that off, now, even as I format the post to hit publish.
The Ant or the Grasshopper?
Busy, you see. Busy-ness.
Relentlessly working trying to make something happen with my business and trying to solve for the income side of the equation as I pursue what I interpreted to be a mission and calling in life.
Trying, trying, striving, working, striving, working. Accomplishing pretty little for all the effort.
Consider the Ants. They work nonstop. Gathering and storing. I’ve been working, nonstop, for sure. For years. For all of my life. Lots of searching for something to gather, but never finding what I was looking for.
Like the ant, except less successful.
Always working at something, working to try and make something happen. Always hustling….must work harder, always busy. But perhaps busy at things that do not matter. I think that’s the case. I don’t know for sure.
I was raised to believe that hard work yields success, but I’ve come to acknowledge that hard work (alone) will not yield success. It’s not that work and effort do not matter. Commitment and productive effort is definitely necessary. But there’s something more.
Finding Meaning, Choosing Meaning
Once or twice, during the intervening weeks since I sat with the grasshopper in the middle of our pepper patch at Shine Springs Farm, I glanced through a few websites that talked about grasshoppers as cultural symbols and how they’ve been represented in literature and myths, beyond Aesop’s fable and Disney films.
For Native American tribes with agricultural economies, grasshoppers were viewed as signs of greed, bad luck and dishonesty. The Bible tells us about the locust plagues that destroyed crops and induced times of famine. But the plagues only came in times of disobedience.
Those are the not-so-good images of grasshoppers.
On the other hand, the Native American tribes who were hunter-gatherers used grasshoppers to understand the weather and, sometimes, as a source of food.
In China and other Asian cultures, the grasshopper is viewed more favorably. Grasshoppers have been kept as pets and viewed as signs of good fortune and prosperity.
The To-Do List
Write blog post about grasshopper stayed on my to-do list for a week or so. Eventually, the busyness ramped up and I finally stopped moving it to the next day’s task list. I moved it to the topics to write about list and left it there.
This morning [September 6] I woke up with the internal admonishment that I needed to write the post about the grasshopper.
Back to the grasshopper in a moment. First I need to address something else.
Cull the Stuff
Yesterday, Monday, was Labor Day…the holiday that is supposed to serve as a day off for the hard working laborer.
I spent the bulk of my Labor Day weekend laboring to sort through and clear out stuff that I’ve had stored up for years in a building in my backyard. Some of the boxes are things that have been boxed up for years. Other boxes were the more recent remains of my academic life.
It’s been almost a year since I had an epiphany while weeding in the backyard garden that I had a lot of weeds in my life that needed to be dealt with. Weeds of past hurts, weeds of perceived failures, weeds of clutter from the “stuff” in closets and boxes. Over those 10 months or so, I’ve slowly eliminated a lot of the stuff.
I am nearing the point of success in eliminating most of the tangible stuff that no longer gives me joy or adds value to my life. (Note to self: Literal weeding to do in the backyard garden and flower beds, if it ever rains….)
Earlier this year, I sensed the inner voice telling me that I wasn’t going to move forward in any meaningful way on anything I felt called to pursue until I had eliminated ALL the clutter and baggage, all the weeds.
In spite of this affirmative instruction to finish the clutter-elimination work, my rational self has been busily striving for months to produce, produce, produce, make something happen, just like the ant.
More Like a Hamster on a Wheel…
…Than an Ant
Rather than storing up anything meaningful, though, I’ve been more like the hamster on a wheel, chasing after certain things in the belief that if I don’t, I won’t eat and disaster will befall. I’ve come close enough to that outcome more than once, so I’m not being hyperbolic. God has blessed me with multiple miracles in the past year miracles that were truly divine intervention and nothing to do with me scurrying about like a mouse trying to scrounge up morsels. Several of these miracles, in fact, came in the weeks between September 6 and 29. It’s been a surprisingly challenging month.
The realization that I must deal with the “stuff” continued to haunt me, so Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, after finishing up the last required immediate project on my to-do list, I decided that I wasn’t going to do anything else until I had dealt with and disposed of the stuff.
I didn’t quite finish, but I got much closer that weekend. [And I’m happy to report that as of September 29 I really am down to the last 2-3 boxes of what I think can be scanned and shredded. Beyond that, it’s a matter of some clothes that I can get rid of and deciding what to do with more books than I can justify keeping.]
My to-do list for September 6, did not include writing anything, certainly not writing about the grasshopper. The day’s official to-do list mainly encompassed all the things that responsible adults do when responsible adults want to stave off disaster, along with more of the tossing/organizing/donating chores.
Revisiting “Failure,” Reinterpreting Meaning
One of the reasons I haven’t wanted to deal with a lot of the stuff in boxes and storage bins is that I see it all as a reminder of having failed at some things, even though failure is simply my own interpretation, rather than anything objective. There’s a whole lot to unpack in all that.
The point that matters for now is that I really do believe that we each get to interpret what something means to us.
My problem is that I tend to interpret it against myself.
I interpret whatever happens as evidence that I didn’t work hard enough, didn’t try hard enough, made the wrong choice.
My problem isn’t taking responsibility.
My problem is that I take on too much responsibility for whatever happens. I can manage to assume responsibility (internally at least) for pretty much everything that happens anywhere, at any time, and blame myself for not finding a way to prevent, stop, resolve or mitigate the damage.
We can’t always control what happens, but we always get to control what something means.
I’ve known that and believed that for a long time.
It’s a truth that has saved me from all sorts of bitterness and hard feelings against other people.
But my Precious is that I take on the responsibility and that keeps haunting me and resurfacing, even after I think I’ve let go and moved on.
Back to the Grasshoppper
This morning [September 6], while having a bit of breakfast before actually starting to write, I typed in the Grasshoppers and cultural meaning in the Google search box and skimmed over a few of the first few results. They all mostly say the same thing.
One search result I hadn’t noticed before was about a book called The Grasshopper Myth for pastors of small churches and the misconceptions about the role and future of the small church.
The blurb about the book references a passage of scripture, Numbers [13:33], in which a few of the Israelite men who’d ventured into Canaan said they had looked like grasshoppers compared to the size of the people they encountered there.
If you read the entire story about this, you find that Joshua and Caleb interpreted the situation differently. In fact, Caleb said, in modern paraphrase, “We got this. Yeah, they’re big, but we can totally take these people.” Joshua said, “The Lord is with us. You have nothing to fear from them.”
Same set of facts. Two very different interpretations.
The question of what the grasshopper encounter meant danced around in my mind, especially during the first few days after it happened.
Option 1: Clinical: “Oh, this was a pleasant encounter in nature with an insect and I’m glad I got to see the intricate details up close.”
Option 2: Doomsday: “Grasshopper should be a reminder that you have no stores for the winter and life is about to get tough.”
Option 3: Blessing: “Grasshoppers are a sign of good fortune and prosperity.”
Now all of these might seem, on the surface, to be an interesting exercise in philosophical interpretations about a small green insect.
But without getting bogged down in the minutiae of all that’s happened over the past year before and since the Grasshopper, I have to say that there is room in this story for interpretation and that the better, more faithful choice is Option 3.
More on this in the days to follow. It’s been quite extraordinary to read what I wrote September 6 through the eyes and experiences that followed in the weeks between September 6 and September 29.
I’ll just close with this: I’m sticking with Option 3, in spite of it all. And I’m also awakening, perhaps, to better understanding myself and what I need to let go of.
Are you guilty of taking on too much responsibility for outcomes?
Do you keep busy to avoid making the hard choices?
Do you get enlightenment by stopping and spending time in nature?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.