In another book I learn that ten percent of all the world's species are parasitic insects. It is hard to believe. What if you were an inventor, and you made ten percent of your inventions in such a way that they could only work by harassing, disfiguring, or totally destroying the other ninety percent? These things are not well enough known.
That's a pretty amazing statistic. Ten percent of the world's living things survive somehow by destruction. Think about it. Barnacles and tapeworms. Pea crabs and lice. Mushrooms. All parasites, living off the life of something else. As Dillard says, we are all "frayed and nibbled" survivors "in a fallen world."
I think I spend way too much energy every day fighting parasites. When I get up in the morning, I immediately start thinking about all the jobs and duties and obligations that will nibble away at my day. Work--chomp, chomp. Teaching--chomp, chomp. A disconnect notice--chomp, chomp. Every day is like that.
I'm sitting in my university office, looking at a pile of essays that I graded this weekend while I was vacationing at the Wisconsin Dells. Five or six hours on Saturday. Five or six hours on Sunday. Gone. Eaten up by red ink. Tonight, I will return those essays to my expectant students, who won't first read my considered and thoughtful comments. Nope. First, they will turn to their grades and either be happy or angry or depressed, depending upon which letters of the alphabet have been inscribed on their papers.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not comparing my students to parasites. I'm simply supporting an observation that Annie Dillard makes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: we all live in a fallen world, and, as a result, we must endure a certain amount of daily parasitic activity. That's how things work. I offer myself up to grading papers because of the profession that I have chosen. I am a willing victim.
That's probably a good test for happiness: do you enjoy being chomped on every day? If you can answer "yes" to that question, then you are a blessed person.
As Nobel laureate Bob Dylan once said, "No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky."
Saint Marty is chained to his classroom tonight.