On my way to work yesterday, I came upon an overturned June bug clawing at the air, trying to regain its feet. I’m always in a hurry getting to or from work, but I decided to stop, offering the insect a leaf to grip, and turning it back over. I knew, as I spied birds flying overhead, that its chances weren’t good. In the course of nature, insects are radically overproduced because so many get eaten. In my apartment they can even be a source of sudden terror when they find their way inside. I knew the June bug was probably nearing the end of its short time on the earth, but as I held out that leaf to it, I knew that in the act of struggling we were one. That sounds terribly Buddhist of me, I know. Insects and humans share, on the most basic level, the desire to survive. Who likes to feel vulnerable—soft, unprotected underbelly exposed to the air? Defenseless and helpless? Certainly not this poor beetle.
Stepping off the bus in New York City, I began my daily power walk to work. The bus had arrived a few minutes late, and my anxiety level about clocking in works as if it’s on steroids. I have to buzz past the interesting things happening in the city, the people who merit a second look, the architecture that has an unexpected amount of detail, only to be lost in the overwhelming number of buildings. Big buildings as numerous as bugs on a summer morning. Then I saw a box pulled up on a low sill outside some swank bank. I often need boxes at work, and I can’t help stopping to appreciate how this unbroken expanse of paperboard would be useful. Then I noticed the feet sticking out the end. There was life in this box, not so different from the beetle I’d stopped to help an hour and a half ago, in its exoskeleton, grasping for some kind of salvation.
I arrived at work agitated. I had been able to help the beetle, but what could I do for the sleeping human being in his box? I had no money in my pocket, and even a twenty would stay the exposed, raw human on the city street for no more than a few hours. To care for a person takes commitment, long-term willingness to make sure that those who fall on their backs are set again on their feet, given the resources, the opportunities they need to get along in a world where those circling above are far more dangerous than the birds in my neighborhood. I looked at my calendar. June is nearly over. The June bugs will soon disappear. And yet I couldn’t erase the image from my mind. How much relief seemed to show on that inexpressive June bug face when it could finally crawl away from the center of the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong here. And a man was sleeping in a box just two blocks away. In the act of struggling we are one.