Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons from the Backwater

Mary knows something about surviving. My friend since first grade, she has buried two husbands and her parents and lives alone on the bank of the Pearl River. Though she is severely limited by rheumatoid arthritis, her spirit seems to have grown more vibrant and alive as her body has failed her.

She asked if I have ever been in a boat on the backwater. I have not.

"You ought to," she said. "It's so beautiful! You can see the strangest things. Like, who would think there is anything redeeming about a bunch of fire ants? But when the water rises and their colony is flooded, you know what they do? They ball up with the queen and as many eggs as they can salvage in the middle and they begin to roll. They scramble head over heel in frenzied tumbling, scampering all over each other, going underwater then back on top. They keep each other alive by rolling so that no one will be under water long enough to drown! They glisten like a gorgeous copper ball - thousands of teeny, shimmering copper bodies tumbling together!"

She continued, "I've just got to hand it to them for surviving!"

"If you break them up with a paddle like my husband would do, they burst apart and scatter. They appear to disappear. Suddenly, they turn into little orbs all around dancing on the water. Then they float back together again - somehow finding each other to hold onto. They know they can't give up. No matter what the world slings at them, they keep coming back. That's why they are so hard to get rid of!"

"You don't see people doing that," she lamented. "You don't see people balling up and surviving because of their willingness to hold onto each other."

I thought about the verbal picture she had painted and almost saw the copper bodies in the sunlight.

Maybe the survival of animals depends on one another as well as their own individual strength. Do we dare reach out to someone else when we are threatened with fear, depression, and failure? Or do we want to avoid the appearance of distress at all costs - and to our peril? Who among us is willing to be in the underwater position and have our own lives drained a bit for the sake of someone else? Living in mutual interdependence is a strength, not a weakness. I hope to remember a lesson from the backwater next time life slings a paddle in my direction.

Hold on. Do not lose hope.

"Bear one another's burdens..."
Galatians 6:2

"When one member suffers, all suffer together;
when one member is honored, all rejoice together"
1 Corinthians 12:26

(Pearl River backwater. Photo by Charlie Brenner, Jackson, Miss. Used with permission)


  1. great post! this is a beautiful image to think about. community is so important for survival, hope, and joy. thanks for the reminder :)

  2. "when one member suffers, all suffer together;
    when one member is honored, all rejoice together"
    1 corinthians 12:26
    true for ants and true for us