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.