I was a curious, joyful, and defiant little girl. I crouched at the edge of our front flowerbed with the end of a leaky garden hose in my hands. A bead of water was slowly dripping from the hose and I was using it to draw circles of water around individual ants to see if they could swim.
"Black Ant", graphite on recycled paper, 3.5" x 3.5"
for sale in my Etsy store
The little black ant panicked as it touched the water with its antennae and began running in circles. It was completely surrounded by a moat of water. I watched this in anticipation for the moment when it would jump into the water and swim to the other shore, but the ant didn't seem very eager to do so. Impatient, I used the hose to quickly submerge the little ant and it promptly sunk to the bottom of the child-made lake, limbs flailing as it struggled.
My six-year-old brain hated ants. Growing up in Texas meant I was all too familiar with fire ants, named aptly for the burning sensation they caused when they bit your six-year-old legs. These creatures were vicious and seemed full of rage. As a six-year-old explorer of our backyard, I naturally returned the sentiment without a second thought. So once I realized that this little ant wasn't swimming, I turned my attention to the other ants and began drawing more circles.
Now, some moms have a special radar... a radar that can sense whenever one of her kids is up to no good. Maybe that internal radar was what brought my mom out to the front patio that afternoon, or maybe she was just always checking in on me because I was often up to no good. My mom found me drowning ants and she told me something that changed my life. "You know, Stephanie, God made the ants and the other creatures of the world too, not just you." *bing* It was as if a tuning fork had suddenly been struck in my chest. That vibration stopped me dead in my tracks.
What if that ant felt joy, comfort, and pain in ways similar to me? What if her life was as complicated and nuanced as mine? Who am I to inflict unnecessary suffering on another being?
"Passing Each Other at Midnight", graphite, 5" x 4.5"
Now 25 years later, I'm drawing this little scene and remembering that day. To make my work as an artist, I often find myself projecting my imagination into the lives of other creatures and picturing what their worlds might look like. This ladybug and snail pass each other as they travel along a dandelion stem at midnight. Do they feel some sort of connection as they pass? Is there a dialogue? It's fascinating to imagine. At the minimum, we see two spirits passing each other, both with the ability to suffer, both who strive to live a life with full bellies, both with instincts to avoid danger, and perhaps even hopes of finding a companion. What really is so different between us and them?
Perhaps we've all been taught to place everything into categories of importance in relation to ourselves. Though we adore them, we put our house pets into a less important category. We also put animals who are smaller and have smaller brains than our house pets (like insects and bugs) into a category much less important than us, and we treat them differently because of it. If we deem someone successful or powerful, we might put them into a category higher than ourselves. We put people we don't understand - people who look different, think differently, and live differently than us into a category separate from us too...
"You know, Stephanie, God made the ants and the other creatures of the world too, not just you."