Everywhere I look, I see a big fat dead mosquito. Over the years, this insect has taught me a lot about life.
It’s inside my eyeball. Hiking across Glacier National Park in 2007 (left), at the moment I reached Triple Divide Pass, the spot where waters flow into three different oceans, it happened: a big fat dead mosquito appeared against the bright sky, like bunny ears cast on a movie screen. I could see the head and proboscis on its body, from which dangled several crumpled legs.
Having good insurance in those days, I soon saw an ophthalmologist who referred me to an expensive specialist with a computerized magnification system that let him tour around in my eyeball as if it were a museum. He looked and looked, asking me to move my eyes in various directions. Finally he scooted back from the machine.
“You’re right,” he said. “It looks like a big fat dead mosquito.”
Unfortunately, he explained, nothing could be done. A clump of cells had sloughed off my hyaloid canal, which connects the lens and optic nerve, but was still attached, drifting about in my ocular fluid and casting this distinctive shadow on my retina. Even if I’d wanted surgery, the risk to my optic nerve would be too great. Perhaps in time the cells would fall off and settle, like most floaters, to the bottom of my eyeball. Until then, he said, I’d just have to live with it.
Twelve years have passed, but my Big Fat Dead Mosquito (BFDM) has not. Often it floats far enough toward the front of my eyeball to become blurry and easily ignored, like bunny ears flashed too close to the projector. But every few months, it moves toward the back so its shape jumps out at me in all its buggy detail. I look fast to the right, and it continues drifting after my eye stops. That sort of thing.
Teachings from the BFDM
At first I was, as you can imagine, severely bummed at this permanent visual impairment, as in, “You’re fucking kidding me — I’m gonna look at this thing the rest of my life?!” But as a sober alcoholic, I can’t afford to hang out in victimhood (“poor me, poor me, pour me another drink…”). So early on I decided to make the BFDM into a symbol of that very fact: I have alcoholism. I did not ask for it. Yet when sorted according to the Serenity Prayer’s flawless rubric, both my alcoholism and my BFDM fell into the same category: “things I cannot change.”
This strategy worked well. Whenever I’d be contemplating a puffy white cloud in a lovely blue sky, and across it would glide, like the Goodyear blimp, the looming shape of my BFDM, I would practice acceptance. Ditto sunsets, snow covered mountains, and, of course any large, white wall. I had no choice but to share them with this squashed bug, just as I had no choice but to go to AA meetings, do 12 step work with sponsors and sponsees, and, of course, not drink booze for the rest of my life. I would think something like this: “Hey there, mosquito. I guess you’re with me for good, just like alcoholism.”
Years passed, and while the mosquito remained, my sense of alcoholism as a burden did not. I came to recognize that god had actually done me a huge favor by making me alcoholic, forcing me to choose between paths of self-destruction and spiritual growth. I began to see that even normal drinkers are bullshitting themselves when they drink — denying damage to their brain and body, imagining they’re more fond of others than they truly are, and denying themselves the practice of manually breaking down ego’s barriers to trust and affection. I saw that not only are all paths to wisdom and integrity at best obscured and at worst blocked by alcohol, but that the 12 steps offered a me stairway to happiness I’d never have found without AA.
Gradually, the BFDM morphed as well, becoming a symbol for something else: compassion. When I’d be talking to someone in bright light and they’d remain oblivious to the huge squashed insect bobbing around their face, I’d be reminded of the subjective nature of experience. That person had no idea I was having to ignore a BFDM to be fully present, and by the same token, I knew nothing of the the various obstructions through which they saw me: scars they carried, fears they battled, emotional distortions they couldn’t help. I learned to temper my judgements, thinking, “Hey there, mosquito. Ain’t it true that I’ve never walked a day in this other person’s shoes?”
Then, about eight years after it first popped into my vision, the BFDM finally lost its legs. Today only the head and body remain — a shape most would describe as blob, and I alone think of as a big fat dead mosquito amputee (BFDMA). During these past few years, compassion has become reflex for me, while frequent contact with the Near-Death Experience community has homogenized my faith in god — meaning not that my god is a dairy product but that the power of my faith no longer comes and goes. I know in every moment of consciousness that god is real, god is love, and that a vast spirit realm is rooting for humanity from the sidelines as we try to untangle the childish mess we’ve made of our world.
Today, whenever by my BFDMA meanders close enough to my retina to cast its distinctive shadow, I am overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude to my maker: “Hey there, mosquito. Can you believe I have a fucking movie screen inside my skull? A surface of cells so sensitive to the universe’s energy (borne by little photons that bounce off everything) that it can encode the patterns received and send them into my consciousness?? Who made us, BFDMA? Who guided the astounding evolution of this gift, and what a spoiled brat am I that the tiny malfunction of you — a few fallen cells — once upset me??”
The soul grows not by addition but by subtraction. So said Meister Eckhart. Today, the mere fact that I am alive inside a fantastic machine that lets me navigate a beauty-filled world, forging a unique path represented by my quirky shadow friend — this alone is a miracle worthy of constant rejoicing.