The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


When I went to the Catskills with grandma for the summers of my early youth I was usually occupied with swimming and trying to catch frogs and reading.  Just as a precaution my parents would always pack away a few of my favorite board games to play on those days when the rain curtailed my outside activities.

I would invite a couple of kids who were staying at the little bungalow colony over to play and we would wile away the day as the rain beat down on the roof of our little cabin.  As grandma had become legendary as a master chef among the summer guests, I never had any difficulty finding other children to play with since our game was always accompanied with one of her wonderful lunches.

When my parents came up for one of their every other weekend stays, they surprised me with a present.  It was a board game called Parcheesi.  The game had been around for a long time but I had never owned it.  So it was with delight that I eagerly started to open it.

Grandma handed me a small pair of sewing scissors so that I could puncture the wrapping and having made my surgical incision between the cover and the box, I began unpeeling the plastic.  Grandma pulled the kitchen waste basket over so that I could place the wrapping directly in it.

I pulled off the cover and laid it on the little table that we used for dining and for game board playing.  Much to my surprise, on the top of the game board and pieces and rules I saw a fly.  Apparently, it had been trapped in the box as the game was being assembled at the factory.  It’s left wing had been caught between the cover and the box and was badly deformed – bent in half at a ninety degree angle to the rest of its wing.  Amazingly, the fly was still alive.

I remember saying to my parents and grandma, “Look there’s a crippled fly in the box.”  They came over to look at this.  I said, “Can you imagine what happened to this poor fly?  Let’s try to see if we can save it.”

I was no stranger to killing flies.  I had been a willing participant in their massacre, employing the only tools available to us for this enterprise – our hands, a newspaper or the ever-efficient fly swatter.  (This was before we had elevated our executional skills by introducing electrocution in the form of bug-zappers).  I had never before thought anything of my sending these creatures into the next world – merely that I was eliminating something that I found annoying.

The fly in my Parcheesi box changed my perspective.

Grandma folded over a paper towel and put it on a bread plate.  She went and made a solution of sugar and water and poured it on the towel.  We then gently picked up the disfigured fly and put it on top of the wet paper towel.  We really didn’t know what flies ate but this was all we could think of.

I  forgot about playing my new game and sat at the table by the plate to see if the fly would eat anything.  I remember trying to push it erect as it’s disfigured wing kept causing it to fall on its left side.  After an hour it was time for bed.  I remember hoping and praying that “my fly” would be alright.

I awoke the next morning to the smell of pancakes.  Grandma and my parents were already dressed and I ran from my room still wearing my pajamas.  I hastily said “Good morning” to them and went to the table to see how the fly was getting along.  The plate wasn’t there.  In it’s place was a bottle of maple syrup.

The fly had died during the night and grandma had taken the plate on which we had placed it outside.  She had folded over the little paper towel and the sugar water and had made it into a burial shroud for the deformed insect.

Grandma said, “After we have breakfast we’re going to bury the poor creature.  That is after you wash up and get dressed.”  So we had our breakfast which was a bit solemn.  I went into the bathroom and began crying quietly.  I washed my face, brushed my teeth and put on my clothes.

By the time I was finished, my father had dug a little grave to the left of the front door so that we could bury the fly.  Dad conducted the brief service.  I remember he said, “We return you to the earth from which you came.  Welcome home.  Amen.”

We covered the grave with the earth which dad had dug from it and each of us threw some dirt on it to cover the fly’s remains.  Dad tamped down the remaining soil on top of the grave with his spade and we left the cemetery.

I have never since that day killed a fly although I will shoo them away.

That encounter taught me that we are all part of a great and wondrous creation and are all inter-related from the loftiest of us to the least among us.  We all have a place, and it is only in accepting and embracing others in whatever form they may take that we have earned our right to call ourselves human.



Comments on: "THE FLY" (10)

  1. You know, I think most people would think this kind of attention to a fly would be unnecessary – even ridiculous. But what I love about this story is that this kind of attention to such a societally insignificant creature – a pest even – taught a child that every life form is significant. Look at your reaction to that fly; children take these things very seriously & they learn how to process them by our example. Your grandma was a very smart woman to teach you the value of all forms of life in this way.

    • I think that “my fly” was also “my angel of enlightenment.” If it had been dead in the box I would probably have merely put it in the garbage and gone about my business of killing other flies. But it survived long enough to teach me a lesson. Other creatures could suffer and we needed to have compassion for them. I agree with you that many would consider this rather foolish – but then you see the results of how they treat “higher forms of life” – including their fellow men.

  2. These little acts of kindness make a deep impression on a young mind. They are the opinion shapers of a quality life.

    • I remember a few days after the funeral looking at our cocker spaniel, Andy whom I loved dearly and realized that he wasn’t a “pet” or a “possession”. He was a wonderful living being who brought our whole family a great deal of love and joy. The poor deformed fly caused me to re-consider my views on the importance of one species over another. I am still on that thoughtful journey.

  3. When I read this, the following popped into my mind:

    What you do to the least, you do to me…

  4. nearlynormalized said:

    My cousin who lived in San Francisco in the late 60’s through the 70’s had similar feelings, but his included the cockroach. In the evening with all the lights turned off he would quickly turn on some lights and there on all the walls were the battalion of large brown roaches scampering up the walls to find some place to slither into. I said, “Why?” His response was something like, “All things have the right to live.” It was his thinking, but it was the last night I spent at his apartment. Roaches/flies—a tad different. Flies lives, I would like the roaches to disappear. How kind your parents and grandma were.

    • I do understand your aversion to cockroaches. We think of them as bugs – intruders in our living space and view them with perhaps a degree of envy as they are likely to be the sole survivors in the event of a nuclear holocaust.

      But without insects we would have far fewer of the birds that we love and admire as this is one of their primary food sources. Without those birds we would have far less cross polinization and would have fewer flowers and vegetables and fruits.

      And speaking of cousins, as you sit down to a lobster dinner, remember that the lobster and the cockroach are just that – cousins!

      • nearlynormalized said:

        Oh no, I shall have to be a total vegetarian. If the cockroaches are outside and the birds are happy, that is a given but climbing up the walls in a living room sort of sets one back a bit.

  5. I do agree with you on that point. Years ago the building next to mine in Chicago was being demolished. This caused the cockroaches who infested this very sleazy motel to find new accomodations. They apparently found them with us. I remember attending a board meeting in which a “cockroach-killer extraordinaire” presented us with a complete history of the cockroach and the different types we might be experiencing. After forty-five minutes of this lecture I found myself snoring. (This was very unseemly as I was President of the Board). I think that I suggested to the rest of the board that we should hire him – primarily so that we could get the lecture over and done with. Before he set about his lethal task I remember turning the light on in my kitchen one night. There were enough cockroaches crawling around that they could have held a very large contract bridge tournament. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

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