Once a scorpion experienced a moment of compassion. Compassion isn’t a trait often associated with scorpions, either in their own minds or in the mind of anybody having the misfortune to be stung by one. With a secretive, shifty manner plus a tail crooked in a permanent gesture of anger insectified, they have few rivals for inspiring fear and a sense of deep-seated malice. Between humans and scorpions, it might almost be said there is a line of mutual loathing that neither has the slightest wish to cross. Understandably then, feelings of compassion were far from this scorpion’s mind early one morning when it saw a huge naked foot swing casually out of the bed under which it had been minding its own business all night and descend rapidly towards it. The foot’s menacing approach was a call for split-second survival response, since if this wasn’t already a question of life or death, it soon would be. Under the arch of its stinger, the scorpion eyed the soft spot where it meant to plant a lethal equalizer and repay its own possible end with one equally certain. A life for a life, that simple. For why, when one’s very existence was at stake, should any life be more valued than another? Was the largest creature granted fuller being than the smallest? Did life flow in anything other than equal force through all its forms? If a human could claim a right to survival, then so too could a scorpion. As the threatening foot drew closer, the scorpion’s entire life flashed before its many eyes. Yet not a single eye could recognize the whys or wherefores in the scorpion’s past that might have led to this precise instant as their inexorable result. What in the unfolding of time had brought it to this dreadful pass and to no other? Would the owner of this foot, so unaware and yet equally close to death, also wonder in a second or two what act or decision long forgotten could have begun a journey that would lead to horrible agony at this time and this place? One of them would soon be in no state to wonder further. But what of the other? Living to see another day after so narrow an escape would be welcomed as the better of two outcomes, without a doubt. But then what? Another day, and another after that, and after that another, until the undoing narrowly avoided here arrived without fail in some other way at some other time and place? Granted a temporary reprieve now, what likelihood was there that either one of them would reach old age without suffering anew and often? Heartaches, setbacks, disillusionment, injury, the ravages of disease or despair, the final “sans everything” humiliation of physical and mental collapse: these were only some of Death’s heralds that waited ahead. Was this human as keenly aware of what the future held as the scorpion suddenly was? If so, or even half as aware as the scorpion, how could it not feel some measure of cross-species empathy with a fellow victim of the sorrows that come with the gift of life?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans