Once a scorpion experienced a moment of compassion. Compassion isn’t something often associated with scorpions, either on their own part or by anybody having the misfortune to encounter one. With a secretive, shifty manner and a tail crooked in a permanent gesture of anger-unto-death, they have few rivals for inspiring fear and a sense of evil insectified. Between humans and scorpions, it would seem, life has drawn a line of mutual antipathy neither has the slightest wish to erase. Understandably, then, feelings of compassion were far from this scorpion’s mind when it first saw a large naked foot swing out of the bed under which it had been minding its own business of a morning and descend rapidly towards it. The growing shadow was a call to instinctive survival response, for if this wasn’t already a question of life or death, it soon would be. Under the arch of its stinger, the scorpion eyed the soft flesh where it meant to plant its lethal equalizer and repay its own likely fate with one just as certain. A life for a life, with no distinctions made and no exception. For why, when one’s very existence was at stake, should any life be valued over another? Was the largest creature more full of being than the smallest? To each its own measure and nothing more nor less. If a human could claim an absolute right to survival, then so too could a scorpion. As the menacing foot rushed closer, the scorpion’s entire life flashed before its eight eyes. Yet not a single eye could recognize an act in its past that might have led to this precise instant as its consequence. What in the flow of time had brought it to this point of plight and to no other? Would the owner of this foot, so unaware and yet equally in mortal danger, ask the same question in a second or two about what decision or act or neglected opportunity long forgotten could have set in motion the cycle of events that would close in abrupt agony here and now? Was there some fated pattern to existence, or was it merely a random scattering of coincidences? Of all the directions life could have taken, in other words, how had it come down to this single crossing of the scorpion’s path and a human’s? One or both of them would soon be in no state to wonder further. But suppose one or both somehow survived, what then? Living to see another day after this brush with death would be welcomed as the better of two outcomes, without a doubt. But then what? Another day, and another after that, and after that again, until the end so narrowly escaped here arrived without fail at some other place and in some other way? While between this moment and that, neither survivor would ever be free from the memory of this close brush with the inevitable. In exchange for a temporary reprieve now, what likelihood was there of reaching old age without suffering anew and often? Heartaches, fears, misfortune, injustice, the suffering of disease or disillusion, the final “sans everything” stumble towards physical collapse: these were only some of Death’s familiars that would accompany one everywhere from now on. Was the owner of this foot as agonizingly aware yet of what lay ahead as the scorpion suddenly was? If so, or even half as aware, how could the scorpion not feel some measure of compassion for a fellow victim of the sorrows that come with the gift of life?
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Grosshans