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Bee Stings And Gratitude

August 27, 2009

Best Google Images find ever.

Today at the beach, I got stung on the right foot by a bee.

I won’t lie: the shit hurt.

It was also marvelous.

I used to get this feeling as a kid, enthroned in a big blue plastic armchair in a small white plastic office guarded by tepid watercolor cows wearing dainty yellow ribbons around their throats. Blood test time. (I had half a lifetime’s worth of bloodwork done before the age of 10.)  Despite the creepy environs and foreboding application of the tourniquet, when the moment arrived for the big jab I would watch in fascination as they stuck in the needle and sucked out the sample, thick and luxurious, like red chocolate milk.  It was something close to magic.

It’s amazing how often we allow the sensation of pain to dominate our interpretation of rich, multi-faceted experiences.  But if we can make a little room around our discomfort, we start to notice all the wondrous or lucky aspects of uneasy incidents.

Here’s a short list from this afternoon’s hymenopteran encounter.

1. The bugger stung me and not my friend beside me, who is severely allergic and would have had to rush to the emergency room.

2. Watching your own foot turn purple is totally engrossing.

3. Opportunity to test that theory about scraping the stinger out with a credit card. (More or less successful)

4. Watching your own foot swell is totally engrossing.

5. Ideal placement of the sting on the foot (i.e. not on the sole, and free from flip-flop irritation).

6. Watching the swelling subside is totally engrossing.

7. Great conversation starter: gender and pain tolerance; the species evolution of defense mechanisms and “protective reputations;” and that time at circus camp when a counselor got stung in the mouth by yellowjackets — twice in two weeks.

8. Did I mention that observing a bee sting can be totally engrossing?

9. Impetus to learn about bee sting therapy: “A folk remedy for treating arthritis, back pain and rheumatism for 3,000 years in China.”

10. At least one of us is still living. RIP, little guy.

Happy adventures, y’all — here’s to the magic of misfortunes.

If you could keep your heart in wonder

At the daily miracles of your life,

Your pain would seem no less wondrous than your joy…

–Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry Loncke permalink
    August 27, 2009 12:41 pm

    I share your fascination with pain—in the dentist’s chair 4 days this week. Ow!! But lot’s of time to contemplate my cud. Chewing it hurts too much.
    Ps Since you were probably on the nude beach, the little critter did you a favor by stinging your foot.
    Enjoy the last days in sunny Barca.

  2. Momin permalink
    December 24, 2009 9:25 am

    Master Si, Master Yu, Master Li, and Master Lai were all four talking together. “Who can look upon nonbeing as his head, on life as his back, and on death as his rump?” they said. “Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, are all a single body? I will be his friend!”

    The four men looked at each other and smiled. There was no disagreement in their hearts and so the four of them became friends.

    All at once Master Yu fell ill. Master Si went to ask how he was. “Amazing!” said Master Yu. “The Creator is making me all crookedy like this! My back sticks up like a hunchback and my vital organs are on top of me. My chin is hidden in my navel, my shoulders are up above my head, and my pigtail points at the sky. It must be some dislocation of the yin and yang!”

    Yet he seemed calm at heart and unconcerned. Dragging himself haltingly to the well, he looked at his reflection and said, “My, my! So the Creator is making me all crookedy like this!”

    “Do you resent it?” asked Master Si.

    “Why no, what would I resent? If the process continues, perhaps in time he’ll transform my left arm into a rooster. In that case I’ll keep watch on the night. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my right arm into a crossbow pellet and I’ll shoot down an owl for roasting. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my buttocks into cartwheels. Then, with my spirit for a horse, I’ll climb up and go for a ride. What need will I ever have for a carriage again?

    “I received life because the time had come; I will lose it because the order of things passes on. Be content with this time and dwell in this order and then neither sorrow nor joy can touch you. In ancient times this was called the `freeing of the bound.’ There are those who cannot free themselves, because they are bound by things. But nothing can ever win against Heaven – that’s the way it’s always been. What would I have to resent?”

    Suddenly Master Lai grew ill. Gasping and wheezing, he lay at the point of death. His wife and children gathered round in a circle and began to cry. Master Li, who had come to ask how he was, said, “Shoo! Get back! Don’t disturb the process of change!”

    Then he leaned against the doorway and talked to Master Lai. “How marvelous the Creator is! What is he going to make of you next? Where is he going to send you? Will he make you into a rat’s liver? Will he make you into a bug’s arm?”

    Master Lai said, “A child, obeying his father and mother, goes wherever he is told, east or west, south or north. And the yin and yang – how much more are they to a man than father or mother! Now that they have brought me to the verge of death, if I should refuse to obey them, how perverse I would be! What fault is it of theirs? The Great Clod burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. So if I think well of my life, for the same reason I must think well of my death. When a skilled smith is casting metal, if the metal should leap up and say, `I insist upon being made into a Mo-yeh!’ 17 he would surely regard it as very inauspicious metal indeed. Now, having had the audacity to take on human form once, if I should say, ‘I don’t want to be anything but a man! Nothing but a man!’, the Creator would surely regard me as a most inauspicious sort of person. So now I think of heaven and earth as a great furnace, and the Creator as a skilled smith. Where could he send me that would not be all right? I will go off to sleep peacefully, and then with a start I will wake up.”

    Zhuangzi (3rd c. BCE), trans. Burton Watson

  3. Momin permalink
    December 24, 2009 9:28 am

    oh, the footnote (17) is:

    A famous sword of King Helü (r. 514-496 B.C.) of Wu.

  4. December 24, 2009 1:06 pm

    Wonderful story, thanks Momin. I especially love Master Yu’s sense of humor in being “all crookedy like this.” Right now I’m working with an awesome 78-year-old minister who’s developed Parkinson’s, and she’s all bent over to her left side. She jokes about it a lot, and that makes the changing process actually sort of marvelous.

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