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Pony Express: A tiny bug no bigger than a period

(Lynn Hummel is on vacation this week. The following article appeared in June of 2006.)

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was one of the greatest men to walk the face of the earth. Schweitzer was a brilliant German philosopher, physician, musician, clergyman, missionary and writer on theology. At the age of 21, he decided to spend his next nine years in science, music and preaching, then devote the rest of his life to serving humanity directly as a medical missionary. So he went to medical school then went to deepest, darkest Africa with his wife, a nurse, to set up a clinic (built out of a chicken coop) and hospital to serve the natives. That he did for the next 60 years. He won a Nobel Prize in 1952 for his work as a humanitarian. He spent his $33,000 Nobel Prize money to expand his hospital and set up a leper colony. One of Schweitzer's core beliefs was his "reverence for life." Even while he was fighting deadly malaria in the jungle, if a mosquito landed on him (mosquitos carry malaria) he would not kill the mosquito but merely brush it off. He felt that mosquitos probably had an important role in the overall scheme of life that he didn't know about.

While I was reading the paper tonight, a tiny bug, no bigger than a period on the printed page, was crawling around on the news. Just a soft wipe across the paper would have smeared this little friend all the way from the news to the obituaries. I looked at the little guy, thought about Albert Schweitzer and let the speck crawl. Live and let live. After all, he wasn't biting me, eating my supper, digging holes in my yard or making a racket. I watched the mite for a few minutes and he just wandered around in circles with no apparent destination in mind. What was his role in the overall scheme of life? Did he have a family? Did he have a mind? Did he know fear? Could he feel pain? I have only these questions, no answers.

You and I have watched ants walk in circles, we've watched flies buzz around and fly from one spot on the wall to another, we've watched squirrels chase one another up and down trees, goldfish dart about in their fish bowls and sluggish turtles cross paved highways where the landscape is the same on one side as on the other. What's going on here? They probably seek nothing more than a bite to eat, a safe hole, nest or shelter to crawl into and, at the end of the day, another creature just like them to say "How was it today for you?"

What all these little living things mean in the scheme of life, I have no idea. But what keeps them moving along from day to day is probably not much different than what motivates half the people on the face of the earth: the folks in Africa, especially the children, refugees all over the globe, special needs folks (we all know some), children bouncing between broken homes and broken families, the homeless, ghetto dwellers, the hungry, the diseased, the aged and the hurting. What keeps them going is not the search for a special place in the big scheme, but survival -- trying to avoid being squashed, smashed, crushed, exterminated or stepped on, but just hanging on for a bite to eat, a safe hole, nest or shelter to crawl into and another human being to say "How was it today for you?" Albert Schweitzer understood that need so many years ago and we should not forget it today.