When I was a child the sight of worms sprawled out across the pavement after a rainstorm prompted ignorant compassion. I would watch in horror as they were crushed under foot and their dried-out carcasses remained for days after. It took me years to realize that in their exodus into the death zone that was our driveway, these worms were avoiding an inevitable drowning. Devoid of this comprehension, I would dash out of my house and begin picking worms up off sidewalks and pathways, tossing them back to their previous doom with childish prayers for their safety and wellbeing.
Just now I found a wasp on the ground in the middle of a tile hallway. It was visibly weak and seemed incapable of flying. Instead it was crawling across the middle of a crowded walkway. This is where our paths met and now I think: it is just a matter of time before it too will be smashed underfoot.
I wish I could have kept walking. But the sight captures me. I pause and crouch down to look at it closely. This is my first mistake. I see its eyes, its intricate body and its legs desperately pulling itself away from an instinctive sense of impending doom. And it then it looks back at me: a living thing, staring with desperation into a moment of my own crawling existence.
This is the hazard of curiosity and subsequent wonder for which all must beware: it installs within our psyche a conscience to which we are forever subservient. Those who prefer to avoid the aftermath of rebellion and turmoil required to retain our previous freedom of thought best to never to take the plunge. Hide under the rocks of complacency, turn a blind eye, shelter your heart from the world of another; keep it safe and cold. Avoid looking at the world with wonder because, if you do, that wonder will invade your heart. And from it you may never be free.
Which is not to say you’d want to. Though perhaps you may. It can, of course, become a curse.
The novelist Gregory David Roberts portrays a character who spoke to this issue. “It’s good to know what’s wrong with the world,” she said, “but it’s just as important to know that sometimes, no matter how wrong it is, you can’t change it. A lot of the bad stuff in the world wasn’t really that bad until someone tried to change it.”
I coaxed the wasp onto a piece of paper and, opening a nearby exit, placed it outside. As I closed the door, I felt the crisp warning of an early spring frost and knew the wasp’s journey outside could easily be a slower, longer and more tortuous version of the death it faced within. But it was all that I could do; I couldn’t pass by.
I have been told that God judges the heart but this does not give me hope. For the heart is deceitful above things. I hold these two phrases in the palms of my soul and at times I cannot find a resolution. Everyone who passed by prior to the Good Samaritan may have been busy. Or: “oh, goodness… he looks like he must have a neck injury. We mustn’t touch him”. If we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt (though that’s a mighty generous benefit indeed) we will find that this is the fear to which we are all captive. Is it not?
I can try to be free of wonder, free of the conscientious heart which plagues my every day. I can fight it, turn a blind eye and desperately reach for its throat with cries of “why bother?” and “what’s the use?”.
When I come back looking for the wasp, I don’t see it but I don’t look long. I don’t care to see it that it may have died, frozen and weak, inches from where I left it.
There is the other option, of course, the option that dances between the line of defeatist and determinist, the option of grace. It treads that line, like the Samaritan on the road, and a child desperately lobbing worms back to their doom.
If God judges my heart then he may find a confused soul. I will not pretend that it is not deceitful and prone to the lusts of all that can lure. Denial is a waste of breath. But beneath it all there is the heart of a grown child standing in a hallway staring at a wasp and wondering what to do.
And in my better moments I choose to give in to the hazard of wonder. I choose to captivate my soul to the wonder around me though I may not get it back. And, in the mystery of grace, I hope this may somehow be enough.