THE DUNG BEETLE
Once a dung beetle had intimations of immortality. Nothing more than that, just intimations. For a moment, though, its routine of daily toil seemed to slip away, and the beetle felt it could see to the limits of time and space. Just beyond the ball of dung it had been pushing ahead of it for as long as it could remember, the universe opened out and opened out again, spreading in every direction like a flowering of the spheres. Then time and space closed back in as abruptly as they’d given way, and the beetle found itself pressed up against the near side of its dung ball once more, rubbery-legged and gasping for breath. “What was that?” it wheezed as it clung to the ball for balance and waited for its head to stop spinning. What was that feeling of expansion without bounds? The sense of weightless euphoria, where had it come from? And where had it gone now that the beetle was faced with this heavy ball of dung to deal with again? These questions stayed with the beetle long after it had resumed its routine of pushing the dung ball a short distance, pausing to stretch as far as it could reach to take the measure of the thing, and then straining to get it rolling again. Not that the beetle came up with anything by way of an answer. Realistically speaking, how much thought could it spare for such matters when the world was so full of dung to be gathered, measured, and pushed about? In the course of these constant exertions, however, there were times when an afterglow of the sudden elation the beetle had felt would run along the edges of its memory, seeming to renew a distant invitation, only to fade away as quickly as it had appeared. These episodes left the beetle feeling more exhilarated by whatever beckoned from out there beyond the dung yet more disoriented as well, and without any idea of what to do besides cling more closely to its ball for support and press on with the reassuring immediacy of the task at hand. Over time, the interval separating these transient bouts of wonder and the dung-clinging that followed them grew increasingly short. No sooner did the beetle suspect a force much larger than itself, some supernova of infinite gain but infinite risk as well, might be about to sweep over it than it lunged against the ball as if meaning to bury itself there till the whole confusing experience passed. And as the moments of dizzying transport and comforting security moved closer and closer to one another and finally merged into a single, split-second dive at the dung, the beetle found it could no longer distinguish between the two. In fact, it began to feel their relationship had been reversed and the dung itself might be giving rise to the sensations of euphoric expansion. Perhaps it was merely a question of how you framed the connection between the two, the beetle thought excitedly, grasping at the heartening proposition that now seemed to present itself. This dung might be the very door to eternity! A passage to the infinite! Union with the ultimate! The alpha and omega of existence! Best make as big a ball of it as you could in one lifetime, then?
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans