In early August I was stung on the back of my left thigh while I was biking. I don’t know whether it was the type of wasp or the fast-pumping blood as I quickly pedaled the remaining 40 minutes home to sign on for a work meeting, but my whole upper leg swelled a hot, angry, itchy red that tightened my muscles for days and just fully receded earlier this week.
Yesterday, as we were walking down the middle of the street in a residential section of sleepy Alexandria, I got stung again. On the back of my left thigh, inches from the last stabbing. And I was, again, MINDING MY OWN FUCKING BUSINESS, WASP!
Pain can send you to weird places. The first place I went was Angryland, but the first place most unpleasant experiences take me is Angryland. It’s my home away from home, but it’s abusive, and years of meditation have helped me to pack up and get the hell out of there quickly under most circumstances. I felt like I was clear of the place within a minute of the searing pain kicking in, but really I was still kicking rocks out on the grounds, quickly transitioned from pure anger to angry fear. Why was this happening to me? I joked to my partner that the first stinger had planted a homing device in my thigh that was beckoning nearby wasps. He asked if I had recently bought a 5G phone. But I really was thinking similar thoughts, and the joke was an attempt to hide what I knew was irrational. Self-pity pumped through me with the next wave of sharp pain. Why me? What had I done to deserve this? Nothing, I knew. That was ridiculous. (I refuse to buy into that privileged Buddhist line of thinking.) But I still found myself looking for a reason, a rationale.
I caught myself before I’d gone too far down that path, because I recognized something I’ve long criticized in others: the imposition of a simple, but false logic on a series of random events. It’s that kind of thinking that both leads individuals to believe that their god chose them because they happened to survive a catastrophic event or two, or that the US is teeming with “reverse racism” because a BIPOC person was chosen over a White guy for a job or two. It is the kind of thinking that leads QAnon followers to find meaning in everything from the Trump’s lies to Trump’s ties. They’re scared, they feel vulnerable, and they want to believe there is order to the universe, even to the point of inventing more chaos (Democrats eating children?) upon which order will be imposed.
I am susceptible to this kind of thinking. Beyond the universal human predilection for pattern-seeking as a way to simplify life and save energy, I spent years dissecting works of literature for themes, metaphors, patterns. I am an analyst as much as I am anything. But I have to accept the likely fallacy of any of my assumptions, and the impact of that failure is far more consequential in life than in the study of 20th century American literature. I have to ground myself in the facts as I can reasonably verify them and find some sources I can trust to deliver those facts to me. Otherwise, it’s too easy to dissolve into despair and cynicism. Whether that’s justified or not, it’s not the way I want to live, because it leaves me isolated, helpless, or both.
So. I was stung by two waspy things in more or less the same spot within 3 weeks of each other. It’s weird, but it isn’t supernatural or unprecedented. It’s just hot and itchy and sucky. Like some other things, and not like many different things.