10/20/2014 02:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Power of Metaphorical Thinking


I made very little noise as I entered my quiet home at 11:30 p.m. My adult son lives there, attending college full time to reach his goal of teaching. It's a beautiful thing to see him navigate his own life, to watch a boy become a man with goals. As a mom, it doesn't get better than that. He had sent a text earlier that day: "My room is literally being over-run by ants." "Impossible" was my response. This guy is organized -- clean beyond what I've ever taught him. He's not one to pull the alarm on anything like a few ants. I followed him upstairs, and I was fascinated. This was definitely not an over-reaction on his part. This was a head-on territorial battle. I sat and watched as these minute tiny creatures crawled through a tiny crack in the window sash, over the edge, onto the wall, down onto the carpet, across the carpet to an obscure location behind a table, and back across. Two lines of gentry, one coming into the house, the other exiting to bring their wares (carpet fiber?) back to the colony. We realized that when they exited through the window they still had to navigate from the second floor, down the back of the house, across the bricks, disappearing into the mulch. I asked how long has this been going on? He told me, "I keep telling you I see ants," and that's true. But I thought he meant 1 or 2, here and there.

We dismantled the room, bedding, moved it out, cleaned out, brushed out, and then -- unfortunately -- had to stop the head on assault: My son was holding the fort. There's no way he's losing his domain where sleep is found, music made, and papers written. The siege over, the area returned to order, I left the house. It was later that night when I returned, responding to a perplexed text from him asking if I could possibly explain how things go back together. I'll be there in about half hour. I had just spent the evening with an awesome friend I've known for three decades, and we hadn't seen one another in at least one of those decades. It was great food, great conversation and it was a reminder to me of giving myself time to spend with those that have had great impact on my life. It was more like an hour later, he had since gone out, and I just threw my concoction together: a foundation of foam on top of mattress, covered by a 2-inch temperpedic-like cushion, covered with a quilted mattress cover, and you're in business. He could do the sheets and all that later. It is true; one of my advanced talents is that I've mastered the art of "the ultimate in comfort" bed

The day had started with an ant problem and was ending in a warm swath of silence. It was completely still and peaceful, the kind of peace that envelops you and says aah, listen to that: nothing. A lone cricket was calling, and I followed his plaintive chirps to investigate. Was he inside or outside? He was outside, at the base of a window in the living room. He must have been right under the mulch, right up against the foundation, because he sure sounded like he was inside. I played some games for a minute or two: chirp, my movement, followed by silence. I sat next to that spot, right on the floor, back to the wall and listened. He was calling out to his entire extended family of crickets that have serenaded all of us through the summer. Drifting off with the windows open or sitting outside as darkness falls in summer, what a beautiful orchestra the crickets are. It was this lone cricket's call that brought to mind the beautiful book Charlotte's Web by the prolific writer E. B. White.

A children's book written in the early 1950s, I don't remember reading it until I was a 16- or 17-year-old (very) young woman. I recalled Charlotte, the arachnid protagonist, the winsome and wise spider living above a pig pen by the barn. She spins beautiful webs above the lone pig (Wilbur) who is facing certain death at the hands of his owner. Between Charlotte and Fern (the little girl who lives on the farm) a fascinating tale ensues wherein Charlotte spins beautiful webs with messages inscribed within the web, simple words such as "Humble," and "Radiant." The appearance of these words woven into her web draw audiences of neighbors and others who concur: indeed, Wilbur the pig is too special to slaughter. Her mindfulness, careful listening to the pleas of Fern, and her ongoing dialog and ultimate close friendship with Wilbur the pig, gave way to the greatest of solutions. Charlotte, however, wove her cocoon of baby spiders and upon their arrival, she passed on. She had done so much in her short life: helped Fern, listening intently to her angst. She found her way into Wilbur's dialog, and she observed the life around them. She unknowingly created a group solution. Her short life touched so many, even the farmer that was intent on slaughtering Wilbur. She assured those around her when they were anxious, and she quietly stayed mindful of focusing on a solution. She taught the importance of honoring humans, the Earth, and the creatures we share it with.

Once she had finished her time here, she brought her babies into the world, certain that through her, they received life and maybe, just a bit of her goodness and wisdom. This beautiful book proved to generations that children do learn through metaphors and that animals and insects teach us great truths about our lives. Like the Native American belief, I also believe that paying attention to our surroundings is vital. If one understands animal totems no further explanation needed; if you want to know more about animal and insect totems (totem being descriptive of a sign or a foreshadowing) and of the specific meaning of their appearance in your life, there is awesome information at your fingertips. With practice, you will inherently know why an insect or animal totem showed up and then you can decide: Do I want to receive this message and embrace it, or will I choose to ignore it? The messages of our animal and insect friends are hard to ignore once you become aware of them. Of course, keep in mind that they should be open to each individual's interpretation. My thoughts on the ants who decided to choose my son's room(s) for their activity: keep working, stick with the thing right in front of you. Yes, it's really hard work. However, if you get help from others, and share your work and your accomplishments, you can do that which you think is impossible. You are so much stronger than you can imagine. Sometimes, it's best to buddy up, ignore the desire to do it all alone. I did not share that with him. His logic and his own keen beliefs would at best, elicit a slight upturned one-sided grin, or perhaps, one of his inimitable stares. Doesn't matter, because these are my beliefs and observations in life, and he is having his own.

So how did the ant colonies in the morning and Charlotte's Web in the late evening become conjoined? It was the first time that day that I had literally stopped and sat in complete stillness, alone. There were no voices or televisions (which I've truly gotten away from). It was still enough to hear the cricket's call which reminded me of the book. In it, the author writes: "The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year -- the days when summer is changing into autumn -- the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change."

I did not feel sad at that moment. I felt touched by the silence and by that beautiful memory of reading the book. I truly do not need to be reminded of the onset of mid fall into early winter. I'm pretty much in the mid-fall part of life! The darkness that falls too quickly, the lone cricket, the geese overhead are gentle reminders of seasonal change. To many, it's time to stock up on shovels and ice scrapers: for nature, there are countless messages being channeled. For me the intimation is simply change. Some moments I embrace it, some moments I fear it. I surely cannot hold it back, though I've tried. In fact, this beautiful cycle is one that humans have not yet been able to destroy, try as we will. I know that change is a constant. I want to embrace that, just for today.