Firstly, let me state that I'm TERRIFIED of Bees and Wasps. Whilst I recognize that this fear (phobia?) of mine is, to some degree, irrational, I've lived with it for forty odd years and gotten used to it. It is what it is, you know? Usually when one of these flying, weaponized insects comes anywhere close to my person, I will take evasive action and even happily run away at full speed. Being that I am a six-foot four beanpole of a human being, I have been told that my running at a sprint is a glorious sight to behold and one that family and friends have enjoyed witnessing many times. Yes, they do laugh out loud at me sometimes and, I guess, I can kind of laugh at myself too. I mean, I'm such a big guy and these Bees and Wasps are such tiny beasts.
Early one morning last week, whilst I was rushing to get ready for work and the kids were getting ready for school, I heard a familiar buzzzzzing sound. My heart clenched as a shot of adrenaline blasted through my veins and I spun round to see that a bumblebee, bless it, had flown through the open window into the bedroom. The poor thing was on the far side of the window from the opening, thus being trapped, and buzzing itself up and down the glass seeking a way out.
Now this Bee was a small Bee. A very small Bee in fact. So small that I managed to restrain my urge to evacuate at speed and, well, just pause for a moment to observe the little creature. Whilst I stood there hoping (praying?) that the Bee would find its own way to freedom, all three of my gorgeous, animal-loving children came in, as one, to find out what daddy was doing. Upon seeing the Bee and I in the same room together, they immediately understood the gravity of the situation and arranged themselves on the bed to watch the forthcoming entertainment.
Please understand that willingly killing insects is not an option for our little family. So, when any of them invade our home territory, the wife will gently escort them outside. Over the years I have learned to manage some parts of my insect fear better and am proud to say that I can now use a cup and sheet of paper to remove spiders without too much panic. Go me. Moths I cannot go near (they fly in a weird way). How-about a Bee? Absolutely NO way. They fly, they make noise, they sting (inject venom) and people who are allergic have died from the stings for God's sake. DIED. Being as I have never been stung, I could be one of these vulnerable-to-insect-venom-people.
With all that in my mind and an impressionable audience of children watching my every move, I shocked myself by deciding spur of the moment to try to help the Bee outside. I told the young'uns my plan and watched as their mouths slowly fell open...Daddy was actually going to deal with a Bee!
First off I needed the right tools. Whilst keeping one eye on the Bee, I grabbed a cup off the bedside cabinet (my side of the bed), a magazine off the floor (wife's side of the bed) and slowly approached the Bee who was continuing to try to escape but not even getting close.
My eleven year-old son helpfully said: "Be really careful dad."
As I got closer to the Bee, it ceased its frantic dance and sat down on the inside window ledge. I could see its rear-end moving up and down, almost flexing, and I wasn't sure if this was some kind of Bee-Yoga to calm it or if it was simply stretching its stinging muscles in preparation for battle. As the Bee and I regarded one another from about ten inches distance, I felt a growing sense of compassion for it and a lessening in my fright. The poor little thing was trapped, alone, getting tired out and presumably just wanting to return to its home and family.
Over the course of the next few minutes I tried everything in my power to make the Bee stay in the cup long enough for me to get the magazine in place thus blocking the hole. Because I was a little shaky and the audience was giggling, the pressure started getting to me. It seemed that the Bee had sensed my inexperience early in the encounter and, rather than getting annoyed, it appeared to be enjoying this strange new game. I would trap it and then it would escape through the slowly opening gap just as I was getting it to the right part of the window. This happened many times. Eventually it sat down again and rear-end bumped for a bit whilst I contemplated my next move. After a while of this back-and-forward fun it had obviously grown bored and without any warning, it launched off the window ledge and flew straight at me.
My memory gets blurry from that point forward, but I'm pretty sure I let out a strangled scream of terror, turned and fled from the room, leaving the children to their fate. Witness reports after the event confirm that the Bee did not even bother giving chase. Once I ran it simply continued its attempts to be free and, finally, made it out of the window just as I was coming back into the room. We watched it fly away and the kids and I cheered. We had not killed the Bee. The Bee had not killed one of us. The little animal and I had shared a moment of time together and then gone our separate ways.
Now what's the point of this overly long ramble about Bees and fear? Well...over the last few days I have thought about that tiny Bee a few times and wondered if it is back in the hive telling its siblings about the crazy humans it met and their bizarre games. The Bee that I feared, loathed and avoided for so long turned out to be a relatively gentle creature, simply going about its day and trying to do the best it could. It meant me no harm and it wanted no trouble. This insignificant incident has made me wonder how many times I have carried a negative mindset when I come across people that I, or society, do not approve of. How many fellow humans, vulnerable, sensitive people, just like you and I, have I met and feared, loathed or avoided without really making a serious effort to have an understanding of their life or to even give them a chance?
The homeless, the addicted, the unemployed, the mentally ill and many other marginalized groups of people are regularly judged in a negative light by the media, society and 'normal' people. This group-dislike is damaging. Both to the judged and the judges. These people, deemed lesser, are then feared, loathed and avoided. Perhaps it can be skilful to try to keep a degree of mindfulness about the way we can shun those outside our approval and also to make appropriate efforts to move towards them, rather than away. We can pay attention to the way it really is, and how others, no matter their place, are simply trying to do the best they can with what they have in front of them. After all, isn't that what every one of us is doing?
Mike O'Connor is a husband, father, IT worker and Kindness Blog's creator. He's based in the UK and continuing to work on his insect phobia.