Labor Day Meditation upon the Ant

I noticed a slow moving Japanese beetle on the sidewalk as I was scurrying into a local elementary school to do a cover photo shoot for a local magazine I edit.

It was being moved by a single ant pallbearer. She zigged and zagged as she pushed and pulled the shiny beetle over the rough sidewalk.

Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered the beetle was not moving under its own power, indeed it appeared to be, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy has said, “graveyard dead.”

It was being moved by a single ant pallbearer. She zigged and zagged as she pushed and pulled the shiny beetle over the rough sidewalk.

Ants have long been known as industrious hard working critters.

The writer of Proverbs said, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise.Without having any chief, officer or ruler, she prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest.” (Proverbs 6: 6-8).

Newer versions of the Bible use lazybones instead of sluggard. You get the idea.

I found it interesting that the Revised Standard Version uses she for the ant, although other versions neutralize the gender to it and they. A blog called simply Ant Blog says that practically any ant you encounter working hard like that is a female. If you check out Ant Blog you’ll learn that the function of most male ants is only to reproduce and that males only mate once and then they die. Interesting.

So, would you rather be the female ant working and scurrying to found a new colony, or just be the male, have sex once, and then die?

Speaking of scurrying, I met up with the photographer, reviewed our objectives for the photo, checked in with the school principal, and found the teacher and student we were photographing for the magazine cover. It was the last day of summer school so the students were excited and eager to get out of the classroom for the rest of their summer, and hurrying to meet their buses or be picked up by parents. We grabbed some shots, likely taking about a half hour in all, and then left the building.

Who was still working on moving that beetle down the sidewalk? Yes, Ms. Hardworking Ant. I had to grab her picture, and of course, leave her to her task (the photo will be on my Another Way Newspaper Column Facebook page). Step on an ant on a sidewalk after she had just spent the last half hour tugging on Mr. Japanese Beetle? No thank you. I try to avoid busy little ants if I’m aware of my foot tracks. However, I do kill ants in the house and set traps if they invade my kitchen as they do almost every summer! And I have no sympathy for biting ants.

Was the beetle “the dinner” for the ant colony that day? Was she working to feed a whole community? The Ant Blog says scientists actually are applying what they observe from ants in coming up with solutions for social problems, which is called biomimicry. I hadn’t heard of that before but you can find more information online.

Everyone from King Solomon (a likely writer of many Proverbs) to modern scientists has gazed upon the ant and pondered what they can learn and how humans can benefit. Without overreaching and giving an ant human qualities (anthropomorphism), suffice it to say that little ant spoke to me that day. She had traveled maybe eight feet in the space of the half hour I was “working” in that school room. Who worked harder? The ant of course. Yet we were both busy, industrious, engaged in a task with a worthwhile outcome. So was the teacher, the photographer, the principal, and the busy parents retrieving their children on the last day of summer school.

Both Canada and the United States celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September. Even when we’re not officially “working,” most humans enjoy being meaningfully engaged in activity that is fruitful, productive, or builds relationships. While I love to relax, read a book, go for a walk, or watch a good movie, I haven’t reached the point in life yet where I’m content to just sit and watch TV all day, or think. How about you?

Are you like the ant—still working hard? Do you enjoy your work? Or if you have to work where you do not enjoy the work, what gives you joy in your off hours? I’d love to hear from you. Post on the Facebook page for Another Way Newspaper Column, write to me at, or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802. I will also send you the booklet Struggling to Balance Work and Family, if you request it.

Posted 8/21/2014 7:00:00 AM

What do you think?

Post a comment or read others’ thoughts on this article in the Online Conversation, or.