THE DUNG BEETLE
Once a dung beetle had intimations of immortality. Nothing more than that, just intimations. For a moment, though, its daily drudgery seemed to slip away, and the beetle felt it could see to the limits of time and space. Just beyond the ball of dung it had been pushing ahead of it for as long as it could remember, the universe opened out and opened out again, spreading its marvels in every direction like a flowering of the spheres. Then time and space closed back in as abruptly as they’d opened out, and the beetle found itself pressed up against its dung ball once more, rubbery-legged and gasping for breath. “What just happened?” it wheezed as it clung to the ball for balance and waited for its head to stop spinning. What was that feeling of expansion without bounds and connection to all that mattered? The sense of weightless euphoria, where had it come from? And where had it gone now that the beetle was faced with this heavy ball of crap to deal with again? These questions stayed with the beetle long after it had resumed its routine of pushing the dung ball a short distance, pausing to stretch as far as it could reach to take the increasing measure of the thing, and then straining to get it rolling again. Not that the beetle came up with anything by way of an answer. Realistically speaking, how much thought could it spare for such matters when the world was so full of dung to be gathered, measured, and rolled about? In the course of these constant exertions, however, there were times when glimmers of the sudden elation the beetle had felt would light up the edges of its memory, seeming to offer a distant invitation, only to fade away as quickly as they’d appeared. The beetle was left after these episodes feeling more exhilarated by whatever beckoned from out there beyond the dung yet more disoriented as well, without any idea of what to do besides cling more closely to its ball for support and press on with the reassuring routine of the task at hand. Over time, the interval separating these transient bouts of wonder and the dung-clinging that followed them grew increasingly short. No sooner did the beetle come to suspect the flash of a supernova might be headed its way from the far side of the galaxy than it lunged against the ball as if it meant to bury itself there till the whole thing passed. And as the moments of dizzying transport and comforting security moved closer and closer to one another and finally merged into a single, split-second dive at the dung, the beetle found it could no longer distinguish between the two. In fact, it began to feel their relationship had been reversed and the dung itself might be giving rise to the sensations of euphoric expansion. Perhaps it was merely a question of how you framed the connection between the two, the beetle thought excitedly, grasping at the heartening proposition that now suggested itself. This manure must be the very gateway to eternity! To immortality! The be-all and end-all of cosmic awareness! Who would have thought?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans