A Picnic with Ants and a Grasshopper

Summer lingered as a most welcome visitor among the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene. It is true that the convent is not air conditioned and peak summer humidity could render the inner rooms into steam baths some afternoons, but none the less, the bright sun and blue sky were a welcome invitation to celebration among the sisters. Even though October was edging its way onto the calendar, this day the sisters decided to evoke the memory summer as cause enough for a picnic. And so just after 6PM, they packed up salads and sandwiches and carried them out to the court yard where they gathered for supper and recreation.

 As they finished their food, Mother Magdalene smiled to herself as she said, “Having a picnic always makes me think about ants. Sisters, do any of you remember the story of the ants and the grasshopper?”

Sister Septimus, one of the older sisters, allowed that she could remember the story from her childhood. She said, “I believe that the ants worked hard all summer to store up enough food to carry them through the winter, while the grasshopper merrily hopped over the fields chirping and singing without a care in the world. Then when winter comes, the grasshopper finds herself without food and starving, even while the ants have plenty.”

“Yes, the very story” says Mother Magdalene. “The grasshopper begs the ants for some food. But the ants rebuke the grasshopper, ‘You sang all summer, why don’t you just dance your way through the  winter.’ So, Sisters, what do you think about the ants and the grasshopper? Who behaved wisely? Who acted well?”

Sister Beatrix, the new postulant at the cloister, thought for a moment before she replied, “My first thought is that the ants were correct. They were wise in storing food for the foreseeable time of need, and the grasshopper was foolish for not planning ahead. But, I’ve been here in the cloister long enough now to suspect that there is more to the story than this. What am I missing?”

Sister Septimus beamed. “You are a daughter after my own heart, dear Beatrix. Not so long ago, I would have whole heartedly agreed with your first analysis and declared that the end of the story. But recently I have come to more fully appreciate the importance and need for celebration in all of our lives. It is far too easy to dismiss the work and the contribution of the grasshopper. We need to joy of music for our lives to truly flourish. Without the grasshopper to remind us to pause and celebrate our lives would be dreary indeed. A touch of foolishness is the salt we need to flourish. Too much salt is not a good thing, but a touch brings out the fullness of flavor. Too much foolishness is not so good either, but a bit, well, laughter and song are the best medicine.”

Sister Visentia added, “I can’t believe that I am saying this, but  yet we do need to be aware of the virtues of hard work and the perils of improvidence, do we not? To work today is to eat tomorrow, yes? And, yet I can’t help but feel that the ants are just a bit greedy!”

“Indeed,” replied Mother Magdalene, “and don’t fail to notice that the industrious ant gathers the produce of others work in planting. We are all part of a larger community. Let us be a community of generosity From each according to her ability, to each according to her need. … I feel like someone else said that somewhere? Who might it have been.” Mother Magdalene mused.

And the Sisters enjoyed the waning light of the sun as it continued on its path behind the western hills.