On Ants and Mothers

The temperature dropped down in the teens last night and might get down into the single digits tonight. That is cold, but even down in the thirties isn’t warm weather. It has been in the thirties for most of this week and is only now getting into those truly winter temperatures.

That is why I was surprised just a couple of nights ago to discover ants still going about their business. Right outside of where I work there was what looked like the creamy/cheezy inside of a cookie or cracker on the concrete. The ants were so determined to get that food into their nest before the full cold weather hit, but it was cold enough that they could barely move. They were going in slow motion, barely perceptible was their movement.

Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants turns out to be quite accurate. I have new respect for ants. Those little guys just don’t give up, not until it becomes literally impossible for them to continue. They finally had to retreat into their nest, but before that they got some tasty stuff for the winter.

That single-mindedness is impressive. It fascinates me because I can only maintain such single-mindedness for short periods of time. My mind is always being distracted, but the only thing that is going to distract those ants from their goal is the immobilizing power of either cold or death. That single-mindedness seems archetypal in its power.

The last few days I’ve been working extra hours. Coming in early, I see some coworkers I don’t normally work with. One coworker is about my age, but she is a very different kind of person. Like the ants, she seems to be a single-minded hardworking person. She has worked this job for most and maybe all of her adult life. She is a wife and a mother, most especially a mother. She exudes the essence of mother.

I work next to the break room. This coworker came in to eat her lunch. She gets out her loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly. She makes a single PB&J. Then she pulls out a small baggy full of plain potato chips. And finally she pours milk into a small plastic cup. This is the lunch I had throughout my childhood as made by my mother. It is so simple and wholesome. Every day I’ve seen her eat lunch, this coworker has the exact same meal. It never changes. She never changes.

I was talking to her. I mentioned that a squirrel lived in the tree right outside where we worked, in a lone tree surrounded by concrete. She asked me what do squirrels do in winter. She asked if they hibernate. I said, no, they have nests and eat nuts they buried. I thought this kind of thing was common knowledge. But I get this sense that her whole life has been dedicated to being a wife and mother, any extraneous information has been made inconsequential. Her life has a single purpose and she is fully committed to it.

Even while eating her lunch, she often talks to her children on the phone. She talks with the voice of a mother and she calls her child “Sweetie”. She has a soft kindness about her, exudes a loving devotion. She isn’t a mother. She is Mother.

The ants represent the archetypal force of tireless work. My coworker represents the archetypal force of all things maternal. There can be something comforting about such things (such people and activities) in life, so perfectly embodying a principle.