Community: Lessons from the Ant
When I was in nursing school, there were many times when I wondered if I would survive, for each week brought new knowledge that had to be acquired, new applications of knowledge already assimilated, and another opportunity to prove I was progressing in that knowledge (tests). So, I was looking forward to studying for and passing my nursing boards, for then I could get on with what I had been working so hard to become, a registered nurse. However, as I became a nurse intern, I discovered that being a nurse was much harder than learning to be a nurse. In fact, working overnight as a new nurse gave me even less time to be with family and friends than when I had piles of homework and exams each week. I wondered time and again if continually giving up my life for the pursuit of this goal was worth all of the struggle. I doubted myself, my capabilities, and my calling. At times, I was ready to give up and simply cave into those feelings of inadequacy. But one particular week when I was so overwhelmed and discouraged, I heard a pastor share a little story that helped me make sense of it all. I went home and wrote down what a heard:
A female mountain climber was scaling the side of a cliff by herself, when just as she reached the top, one rope came loose and slapped her in the face, dislodging a contact in that eye. Since she had extremely bad vision, even losing just one contact immediately severely handicapped her vision. As she pulled herself over the top of the cliff, she just sat there stunned for the next hour. Then, realizing the temperatures would be plummetting as the sun went down, she began to pray, “Lord, I don’t remember much from Your Word, but I know there is a Bible verse that says something about Your ‘eyes roam to and fro throughout the whole earth’ so God, You must know where my contact is. And I know that You can show me, and I pray that you will. Amen!”
Since she couldn’t safely try to manuever back down that precipice, she simply sat on that plateau. She was surprised when, a little while later, another climber popped his head up from underneath the edge of the cliff and said, “Anyone up here lose a contact?”
He explained that he had been climbing up the face of the cliff, when a glimmer, a reflection caught his eye. As he continued to climb, he veered over toward the glimmer, overwhelmingly attracted to that object. When he finally reached the moving glimmer, he found an ant carrying a contact on his back, walking along a narrow sliver of the ledge. He then removed the contact and climbed the last few feet over the top. As he finished his story, he handed her her contact, and with her vision restored, they proceeded down the mountain together. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
When the female mountain climber got home, she relayed the amazing story of her rescue to family. And her dad, who just happened to be a well-know cartoonist, drew a picture for an upcoming column of an ant carrying a contact with the following caption:
“God, I don’t know exactly why You wanted me to pick up this contact. It’s not good to eat, it’s extremely uncomfortable to carry, and bigger than I am. But until You tell me to put it down, I will continue to carry it.”
I can still remember the impact of that little tale, for as a new nurse, I identified with the ant. I certainly didn’t know why God had called me into nursing, nor did I expect the giant learning curve, for it felt like I had gone directly from Honor’s College to kindergarten, for the scope of nursing was almost incomprehensible. But like the ant in the story, I realized that God had told me to become a nurse, to lift and carry this “contact,” and I had no choice but to continue to carry it, until He told me to put it down. So I had to choose to believe that, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
The story of the ant also reminded me of tales I had heard as a child, like The Tortoise and The Hare, where I had learned that some may not be as fast as others, but the steady one would still finish the course and win the race. According to one teacher resource website, Aesop was a slave in Ancient Greece who used his keen observational skills and created stories for humans with lessons found within the animal kingdom, and his themes included an ethical or moral dimension, a lesson to be learned. So as a slave, he certainly must have had some uncomfortable learning curves of his own.
As I reflected on how difficult the transition had been as a new nurse, I thought of how ants are used as an example of diligence, “Go to the ant… observe its ways and become wise” (Proverbs 6:6). So what could I learn from the ant? I knew that ants lived in community, that when something was too large for one ant to carry, they simply worked together to share the task. I also knew that ants planned ahead and “stored up for the winter” (Proverbs 30:25). (Maybe Aesop had previously learned this proverb on which he based the story of “The Ants & The Grasshopper,” the moral being “There’s a time for work and a time for play,” but you certainly don’t want to mix up the two.)
I realized nurses also worked best in community, like the ant, the female hiker, and the male hiker. I recognized that on nursing units, the wise experienced nurses translated the book knowledge into safe and effective patient care by training the new nurses. I also grasped that preparing for the unexpected was wise. Maybe there was a reason for the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on; maybe I had to walk through the hills and valleys to gain expertise and wisdom! Well, I wouldn’t have to wait long to get another lesson from the ants, this time a physical one.
My husband and I were staying in a travel trailer for the weekend in a remote area, and as the evening was quite warm, we decided it would be more comfortable (and beautiful) to sleep under the stars, so we moved our cot outside. Because of a lack of breeze, I didn’t notice the blanket had fallen as we drifted off, but then, half-way through the night as the temperature dropped, I drowsily reached down on the ground and pulled it back up.
Quickly, we both realized something was dreadfully wrong. “Ouch! Ohhhh! What’s that?” Soon we realized the cot was beside fire ant bed, and they had snuggled down for a snooze of their own until I interrupted it by pulling the cover off them. I guess the ants decided if they couldn’t sleep, we wouldn’t either. We jumped up from that cot and slapped at our clothes and skin and tried to knock off as many ants as possible, then raced for the travel trailer. Deciding the heat was better than the rage of the fire ants, we fell asleep. But our saga was yet to be over.
The next morning, while I was still lazily yawning and stretching, my husband had stepped outside the travel trailer and was heading toward his truck when literally, a rattlesnake with a vengenance came racing after him. The next several minutes were comical later (though not at the time) when he jumped in his truck, rolled down his window, and started yelling for me to come out with his gun to kill the snake. Seriously, if there is a snake outside, the last place I am going is outside. So I watched from the safety of the window (inside the trailer), yelling out semi-helpful information about the location of the angry rattlesnake (which was now under the truck), while my husband manuevered out to get a hoe and eventually chopped his head off.
They always say that “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” and in this case, I would have to agree. Once we were both safe, we have laughed long and hard together over the events. Then, we realized that the dreaded ants we thought were such annoyances (and caused so much pain) actually just saved us from waking up on a cot beside an even angrier rattlesnake. And we praised God we worked together and were alive to tell the story.
So, I began to wonder? Were my challenges within my novice nursing role actually just minor ant bites, annoyances for sure, but actually meant to prevent more serious problems, like something life threatening? Maybe, I had been viewing this learning curve all wrong. Could it be a blessing in disguise? So, in honor of Aesop, I decided the moral of the story was, “You can’t jump from novice to expert without some pain along the way, but that is okay, for some bites are worse than others!”