01 October 2012 | What an Ant Dreams Of

A few days ago coming home from work, there's a section of sidewalk that I always make sure to pay attention to where I step because of the ants. I'm sure I step on lots of bugs while walking, but for some reason, this particular area is where I'm most careful. Those tiny red ants, larger red and black ones, I sometimes stop for a few moments to just watch them going about their business, oblivious to me unless I place my foot in their way.

But on this particular day, I happened to kick a small rock which I noticed struck an ant. And it bothered me because it was an accident and the unfortunate insect was right in its trajectory. I moved in closer to see what happened to it, and bother of bothers, there it was. Somehow, it was resting on its bottom, wiggling frantically. It could not move, although it appeared to be trying its hardest.

I immediately felt bad. I looked in closer to see if maybe the rock had ripped open a part of its body, but I couldn't see anything. But whatever I had done had made it somehow immobile: all it could do was just try vainly to get on all its legs. It's almost as if I had pinned it somehow to the sidewalk.

And then I was taken back to the fragment of a memory from when I was a child, a commercial I had seen that ended with someone intoning: "don't step on his dreams." The closing shot for these words was a person mindlessly about to step on an ant. I cannot remember for the life of me what the commercial was about: all that's stuck in my head for these thirty plus years were those words and that image. Don't step on his dreams. As I understand it, ants don't sleep, and there's no doubt they live very short lives. But here I was, a middle-aged man suddenly turned into a young child, desperately worried that I had just stepped on an ant's dreams.