As another year hastens to its end, I am thinking a lot about ants and ant hills, not that they are much in evidence now that the long, grey, Canadian winter is upon us once again. My fascination with ants is two-fold; how do they figure out what they are supposed to do when they all seem to be working as a cohesive unit building an ant hill, and what do ants do in their spare time? Google, and several animated movies, A Bug’s Life and Antz, being two of my favourites, give good scientific and creative explanations.
Human lives are often compared to that of ants, but not always in a favourable way. In a movie you might see a camera zoom out from a singular person walking in a crowd of people, or driving in rush hour traffic to slowly reveal all those people or cars getting smaller and smaller till eventually we see a beautiful meshing of thousands, and if you zoom out further, millions of people or cars, boats, trucks, trains, and planes all seemingly traveling in a similarly coherent fashion with the common purpose of building a great ant hill.
To look at it on a mundane level: We wake, go to work, come home, spend a few hours doing what we must, sleep, repeat, pretty much for an entire lifetime. Many of us probably believe our lives add up to more than this seemingly banal, repetitive routine. But do they? That is the great question which hounds the most self aware of all sentient beings: What are we doing here? If you think about it long enough it can become quite disheartening.
A lot of ink has been spilled trying to answer that question and most answers are woefully inadequate. People of faith are lucky because that question is answered for them, but it opens a whole lot of equally vexing ones, such as what does life everlasting look like? Might it be doing that same routine for eternity but being happy about it?
Extending the analogy of the camera zooming out to the point where we see all human activity on earth being very much like that of ants moving through well worn paths in a never-ending quest to finish their metaphoric ant hill. Any time a natural disaster, or an accidental or purposeful destruction by a wayward foot step ruining our great accomplishment, which in the ants’ world might be compared to an act of god, the next day we are back at it building our ant hill all over again.
There is a heartbreaking poignancy in that analogy. As the camera continues to zoom out into the ether, through our Milky Way, and thousands of other galaxies, past black holes, and dark matter, into the ever-expanding universe, we become less than particles of dust in the grand scheme of things, and all our comings and goings amount to little more than an ant’s footfall.
For that reason, this holiday season I will lock the camera’s focus in nice and tight on family and friends.