As often happens when I sit myself down—coffee steaming, laptop purring, and textbook propped open—I become distracted. During this particular iteration of my wayward attention, my mind drifted away from the copious application materials necessary for my upcoming attempts to secure a pre-doctoral internship and became fixated on an ant. At least, I think it’s technically an ant. It had wings, but it wasn’t a fly. So I’m going with ant.
Anyway, the winged six-legged something-or-other was diligently scaling the coffee shop window, which was thick with the moist mess of condensation. It reached a point at my eye level before abruptly it stumbled. After a feeble attempt to steady itself, it cascaded down the window, out of view. Oh well, I thought. Suppose I better get back to these essays.
Not long after plunking away at the nonsensical collection of cliches that is my “Autobiographical Essay,” I spotted the beast once more, pedantically plodding on its course toward whatever majesty awaited at the top of the window. I held my breath as it reached the point where it had last fallen, hoping dearly that it would meet a different fate. Alas, it didn’t, and once more the middling creature slipped.
At this point, I began to feel irrationally irritated. Why use your legs, you stupid ant. You have WINGS. Just fly. Or, if you insist on walking, use the curtain. There’s considerably more friction on cloth compared to wet glass.
A third time the ant arose, and a third time it fell. Then it was gone.
I leaned over the table, scanning the base of the window in search of the critter. Nothing.
Stupid ant. If I had wings, I could have done so much more. My accomplishments would be exceptional—the envy of others. If I had legs that could scale walls, I would never fall. I would also have a significantly more impressive Autobiographical Essay. I should just squash the pathetic thing, rid the world of its failure. If I find it, I’ll smash it.
In that moment, I was struck by how scathingly judgmental I was of a creature whose brain lacked pathways for critical thinking. And worse, this didn’t feel all that foreign. These mentalized insults were akin to those that tend to fester in my mind about people. People on the train, people at work, people at church, and people who are my patients. From high aloft on my stool, sipping from my mug, I look down. Not at, not toward.
This sure sounds like a marvelous trait for someone who’s committed to approaching his patients with empathic regard, right? Not to mention that little thing called love that Jesus tells us to show. If I could deliver such decimation to an insect, I am certainly capable of damaging others with my words.
I never did see the ant again, so I never got to deliver my apology. I’m not here to squish, I’m here to help. Here’s hoping I can recognize that going forward.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. Matt lives with his lovely wife in Oak Park, IL.