Friday, April 8, 2011

Roaches kinda’ scare me.

Nothing inspires my evolutionary inferiority complex more than cockroaches. They’ve got survival perfected. They can live anywhere, and survive anything. I would be in complete awe of their perfection if they didn’t make me feel queasy, just thinking about them. To some degree, roaches are what stand between me and residence in a warm weather climate.

There are so many things about cockroaches that revolt me. The greatest, by far, being their intellect. I’m disgusted by June Bugs and Water Beetles, too, but they don’t run for cover when you enter the room or flip on the light. That high speed dart for safety that roaches make, makes me feel violated. And have you ever tried to step on one? Even if you’re reflexes are actually quick enough to make a hit, it is pointless, unless you add an ankle twist. Their hardy exoskeletons flatten down thinner than paper and, while the ankle twist ensures their loss of life, it also means cleaning up roach guts. And the trickery! If you don’t add the ankle twist to your roach stomp, all you accomplish is squishing out a pile of eggs onto the floor, so that you can enjoy the company of more roaches later! Revolting!!

I’ve been fortunate in that I have not had to share my residence with roaches for decades now, but I’ll never forget the terror, as a young girl in Southern California, of having a roach slowly creep up on me from across the bathroom, as I was helplessly confined on the throne. Or the enormous size of the roaches that scurried in every direction when anything banged into the garbage cans by the back gate. I’m quite confident that human survival is not based on our superiority to roaches, but is because the roaches held an international convention and decided to let us live. After all the more we propagate, the simpler their food collection goes.

I was reminded, a couple summers ago, of how much I despise roaches and what a blessing it is to live in a home without pests, during Youth Service Week. We were taking the church’s teens out into the community for a week of service projects. One of the days, we prepared an apartment for newly arriving refugees. You’re probably already feeling ill, but try to be brave as I describe this apartment.

We came into the apartment in the full light of midday, but a few roaches scurried for cover out of every room we entered. As the youth set to work cleaning the kitchen cupboards and stocking them with pots and pans, the other leaders and I noticed that the wall sockets and light fixtures were producing an overflow of baby roaches that ran across the walls and ceiling every couple minutes. In four years of living in the southwest, I never once saw a baby roach. You normally wouldn’t – they would be protected in a nest away from humans. We concluded that the walls of this apartment were so teeming with roaches that even the babies were coming out into plain sight in the middle of afternoon brightness.

We were amazed at the bravado of the youth. Every time they bumped the refrigerator, another bug would run out and then try to run back. They were pouncing on them,quickly learning to add the ankle twist and taking delight in the game of roach stomping. They apparently had such limited experience with roaches, they didn’t know the disease-spreading un-cleanliness the bugs' presence indicated. I wanted, every minute of that afternoon, to run screaming from the apartment, burn my clothes before entering my house, and scrub down in a boiling hot shower. Instead, I hung in there with the kids and kept cleaning. I imagined the cockroach disco party that was going to greet these new refugees that night. I wondered at the circumstances of a refugee camp, that this crummy, roach infested apartment could seem like a luxury, as the refugee service workers assured us it would. I said silent prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude for my own, pest-free house.

I have the privilege of being fearful of and disgusted by pests like roaches. I have the privilege of single family housing, where my pest prevention is not dependent on 500 or so other people, who, out of limited means and low personal functioning, share and attract pests into my slum.

I’m horrified by cockroaches, mice, and bedbugs, in part, because I can be. I’m humbled that it could be called an act of service to prepare an apartment for someone, in a building where I would not be willing to spend a single night - and barely made it through an afternoon.

Swarming insects are unclean, so don't eat them. Deuteronomy 14:19

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