In a pool with my daughter, I saw something die.
It was a bee. It had flown too close to God knows what it was looking for, and got caught in the water.
I had my daughter in my outstretched arms, watching her as she paddled her little self in all directions, trying to stay afloat, and move forward.
The bee was doing likewise. But it wasn’t trying to move forward, and it didn’t have me.
It wasn’t far from where I was; a few arms’ lengths. My first thought was to save it, of course.
But there was a fear, the fear all parents wear like the hair on their arms. My little child, with my eyes, helpless before the world.
Once I had been sitting in a hot tub with her on a sunny day. We were both sitting; the water wasn't very deep. Then she slipped off the step she was sitting on and sank beneath the surface.
I lifted her out, but I was sitting back, and there was a moment when I hadn’t yet. And I’ll never forget it, because she stayed. She sank beneath the water, and sat there as she’d been sitting before. She didn’t bob back up, as most things do in water, even inanimate ones. She didn’t flail her arms or stamp her feet. She just went under, and stayed. I can still see the top of her head.
And now there was this bee.
I had a phobia of bees when I was a child. I once closed down my lemonade stand because they were all around, in the flowers behind me. One of my earliest memories is of being stung. I remember not being able to believe the pain of it, as my mom rushed me to one of those sandy stone rest rooms by outdoor pools - the kind I’ve since become reacquainted with as a father - and tried to pull the stinger out.
I was no longer afraid of bees. I loved them, in fact. Bees, those honeyed harbingers of the world we’re disappearing into. Mysterious, magical bees, that spread life where they go.
This one was dying. He wasn’t still as he sank, not by a long shot. He was fighting for his life, as I had done. As grown things do when that life is threatened: by flailing, by twitching, by flapping, heaving, shaking out. I knew the feeling of your body refusing to die.
Now if I tried to lift the bee - to push him out on a wave of water onto the pavement - it may not work at all. Would he be able to get free of the water, now that it had touched his wings? And if he could, he would not be at his best. He would be afraid. He might lash out, and sting the flesh he found. And my daughter’s happily flailing body was before me.
Not much chance of that, but I thought it, thought it almost first. And almost second was the thought that this was just a bee.
I’m ashamed of this thought as I write it, as I remember it, but at the time it made perfect sense. Most of us, seeing an insect, think immediately of murder; often there is no second thought at all. Mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches - the last is a ubiquitous literary figure in the history of genocide. Cockroaches are the ultimate killable things, things that disgust to murder without intermediary. And these pose no risks to us, even the unlikely imagined. It would bother us not at all if all cockroaches were to suddenly be gone from this world.
Bees are more beautiful, more useful - much easier to love. Yet one bee is one bee; a trifle. At the time, even now, I reproached myself for thinking on it. This day is to be enjoyed, this moment that will never come again. This moment that includes my daughter chattering and laughing, floating in my arms, just as it does this bee drowning - just as it does an infinitude of other things, big and small, suffering beyond reckoning and peace beyond understanding.
And of course, the truth of it: that bees are not so different from us, not much less meaningful than us. How do we matter any more than bees? Only because we believe we do, and we have surprising power over nature, and we can so often shield ourselves from its icy reckoning. How is my daughter sinking silently any louder than this bee who wants to live? Only because this is my daughter, and this is not my bee. And we can’t belong to everything.
I forced myself to forget about the bee. Later, I saw its body. Tiny. Still. I had kept my daughter from seeing that it was ever there, which was the thing I had wanted most all along. I didn’t want her to be afraid. We had a nice time at the pool. Even I forgot about it for a while.
But I saw a bee again, in the pool, another day. My daughter was older by then. She’d been stung before. I pushed a wave of water out below the flailing bee. And it shook itself loose. And it flew.
We are bees. Tiny, disappearing, mattering not at all to anything but each other. We are drowning nothing little miracles. Always save the bee.