October 2. “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” (St. John Chrysostom)
I guess I have never really considered bees all that honorable. Mostly they just ruin picnics, or sting me when I am trimming bushes (that actually happened to me, and it’s a good story on why you should never trim bushes with headphones on). I’m kidding, of course, I know that bees serve a very important role in the entire ecosystem because they help pollinate plants, which are the basis of our food chain. I am just not a fan of the little critters.
For the purposes of this quote, let’s just say that bees are, in fact, quite honorable. I don’t know which other animals participated in the voting, but we will just go with it for now. Bees are honorable. Got it.
What St. John is trying to tell us in this quote is that there is great honor in being in the service of others. When our toils are not just for ourselves, but are for those around us, we increase our honor. Sure, we all have to do things to take care of ourselves on a daily basis – call that the cost of being alive. I have to make sure that I eat, and do so properly, that I have good hygiene, that I take care of my resources to keep a roof over my head, and so on. These are the things I do for me. Throw in things like entertainment and education, and you get a good picture of what it is to take care of oneself in the world. But there is far more to life than simply taking care of myself.
As a father and husband, I have a responsibility and a vocation to take care of my family. As a friend and family member, I have a responsibility to be there and be supportive in times of need. My friends and family rely on me, to one extent or another, to dedicate part of my labor for them. And I, in turn, rely on them as well. None of us are islands, none of us are independent from one another.
But my labor for others cannot and does not stop there. For me to be an active, honorable citizen of the world, I must dedicate some of my labor in life to the betterment of those around me. I must be about doing good things for others, not because I am interdependent with them, but because it is the right thing to do.
I grew up in Boy Scouts, and the slogan for BSA is “Do a good turn daily.” What it means is that on a daily basis I need to do something good for another person, with no expectation of anything in return. Ideally I do it without ever being caught in the act. Yes, the Boy Scouts are like little good turn ninjas, off doing nice things that no one sees them doing. Why? Because as soon as someone sees us doing the good turn, then they can express gratitude, and it is no longer a purely selfless act. At least that’s how it was taught to me.
In the nearly 40 years since becoming a Boy Scout, I have tried to live by this slogan. I try to give to others, in ways small and large, on a daily basis. I don’t always try to be a ninja about it, but when I can be it warms my heart further.
Yesterday I wrote about growing up in the 1970s. I talked about my patriotism and how proud I was (and am) to be an American. I spoke of how the 1970s were a tumultuous time in America. One of the enduring images of that decade is that it was called the “me” decade. People in the 1970s swung from being socially conscious (as they were in the 1960s), to being more self-centered. Eventually greed became in vogue in the 1980s as people shifted their attention even more inward. At least, that’s how popular culture paints the ‘70s and ‘80s. I can’t say for sure, and I don’t have any statistics one way or the other, but I think that the degree to which people turned inward is over played.
One phenomenon that I noticed during that time, and which I have read a bit about since, was the moving of people from the front porch to the back deck.
Homes that were built before the 1970s had front porches. Some of them were quite large. People would sit out on their porch to socialize with their families, and to have a look at their neighbors. People walking down the street might stop and say hello, perhaps even sitting down to some iced tea or coffee. I grew up on a street where 60% of the houses had large front porches. Some of the houses were duplex flats, with an upstairs and downstairs apartment, and some of those houses had decks on both floors.
Somewhere along the line, though, people migrated to the back of the house. I have helped build my share of back decks and patios, and I have spent many hours sitting on them with friends and family. The space is still conducive to good visiting with invited guests, but somehow we lost that sense of community that came with sitting on the front porch.
About a decade ago my sister and brother-in-law had a large front porch built on their home. Theirs is just about the only house in the neighborhood with a front porch. One of my favorite summertime things to do is to visit them, and sit out on the porch. We talk, drink coffee, read the paper, and even see what the neighbors are up to. Sometimes people walking by will stop and say hello, or at the very least give a friendly wave.
I am not sure what all of this has to do with bees, but I think it is somehow connected. When we spend our time looking out for one another, and not just those closest to us, we build a stronger community. When we move from our back deck, to our front porch, we increase that interconnectedness. When we allow our ideas, and our labors to flit about from flower to flower, we help germinate a better world.
Today my reflection is on the honorable bee. Today I am thinking about whether I am doing a good job at pollinating a fertile world, of if I am merely taking care of my own garden.