Sunday, August 28, 2011

`The World Is Surely Wide Enough to Hold Both Thee and Me'

Among the pleasures of life in Houston is the profusion of insect life. Yes, we have fire ants but also butterflies exotic to my Northern eyes, though fewer than usual because of the drought. Friday afternoon, walking home from the mechanic’s garage where I had left my car, I saw a dull yellow something flitting about a lawn where a sprinkler was spraying. I took a closer look when it lighted on the moistened grass and identified it as a cloudless sulphur, surely among the loveliest of butterfly names. The edges of the insect’s wings looked frayed, like the cuffs of an old shirt. The summer has been long and dry.

Back at the garage, the mechanic I spoke with had been sympathetic. When I told him I was facing a three-mile walk to my house, with the thermometer topping one-hundred degrees, he gave me a bottle of water. I had noticed flies buzzing around his office, and suddenly the mechanic snatched one out of the air with his hand. I was surprised and impressed by his speed and dexterity, and further impressed when he opened the door and released the captured insect. 

“I don’t like killing them,” he said. The narrator of Tristram Shandy (Vol.2, Chap. XII) tells us his Uncle Toby “had scarce a heart to retaliate upon a fly”: 

“Go, says he, one day at dinner, to an overgrown one which had buzzed about his nose, and tormented him cruelly all dinner-time, and which, after infinite attempts, he had caught at last, as it flew by him; I’ll not hurt thee, says my uncle Toby, rising from his chair, and going across the room, with the fly in his hand, I’ll not hurt a hair of thy head: Go, says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as he spoke, to let it escape; go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt thee? This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.” 

Tristram tells us he was ten when he witnessed Toby’s act of mercy, and that it “instantly set my whole frame into one vibration of most pleasurable sensation.” I felt something comparable, even in the heat of Houston.


Left-footer said...

Beautiful, and thank you.

Ah, Tristram Shandy!

Nige said...

How beautiful - it looks rather like our native Brimstone. And a favourite quotation from Tristram Shandy... One of the very few times my opinion of Barack Obama rose was when he effortlessly caught a fly in his hand. But he did not, as I recall, release it, still less quote Uncle Toby.

Cynthia Haven said...

This one's unforgettable, Patrick. Thank you on a Sunday morning.