The Hand of God

I saw a beetle (salagubang) on its back today. It was struggling with all its might to turn over, but the poor creature couldn’t even make a single rocking motion. Occasionally, it would stop, of which I thought it dead from exhaustion. But after a few seconds, it would again frantically wave its appendages in a vain attempt to put it back on its six feet. Out of pity, and out of admiration for its determination to survive, I picked the beetle up, careful not to hurt it in any way, and set it down (its feet on the ground, of course,) on the base of a potted plant.

It has been a long time since I last saw a beetle. I remember the days when Tito Ben, from Cagayan, would visit us and would hunt for beetles in the then-grassy lands surrounding our house. He explained, that when he and my father were children, they would catch beetles when they had the free time and play with them. He showed me how to “play”; he tied a string around one of the beetle’s back leg and would set it free, flying for freedom yet found none. It was amusing at first, and I remembered the time when I once caught a little firefly and kept it in a plastic bag, the one people use to make homemade ice with. It shined for a night, and shone no more after. For the beetle, it was the same fate; it was cooked with a lighter and was eaten by my Tito. He said it tasted like balut, premature duck eggs.

After I “helped” the beetle out with its predicament, I strangely felt good, as if I’d done something great and honorable. And I think I did. I felt a strange happiness out of helping that little, trivial, thing live. Beetles are strong and sturdy insects, capable of defending itself against any foe. It can defend itself by just lying down and pulling its legs in, its thick carapace protecting it from the predator’s mandibles, by fighting with its sharp jaws, gnawing and slashing the opposer, and other exotic means such as spraying a foul chemical on the attacker to repel it. But the Achilles’ heel of a beetle is when it falls on its back. Unlike its rugged topside, its belly is soft and vulnerable, a fatal blunder if it fails to regain control of the situation.

I’ve always been afraid of holding a crawler in my hands. I remember when I first felt the body of a dead cockroach. My mother made me pick one up when I was young, to teach me something I later realized as courage. Albeit a little paper separated my hands from it, I still felt that crunchy, waxy and spiny body. I can recall its antennae brushing slightly against the hair of my wrists, sending shivers up my spine and goosebumps on my skin. I’ve yet to dispose of cockroaches like my mother does, though. She picks it up with her bare hands and throws it in a garbage bin, as simple as that. I admit, I’m afraid of doing that. But the beetle was too, wasn’t it?

When I saw that beetle lying on its back, I had doubts picking it up, Things that crawl are best left alone, as I’ve discovered many times when I was a little boy. I accidentally put my right arm on a caterpillar that fell from a tree onto my lunch box, and spent the whole day picking out the spines at class. I’ve put my seat many times unsuspectingly over an anthill, and paid for my insolence with red rashes on my legs. And the mosquitoes that crawl on one’s skin and parasitically feed on one’s blood made me hastily generalize that the beetle would bite me too.

It didn’t, though. It seemed to know that I wasn’t there to be like my Tito Ben, to tie a string on one of its legs and eat it after it’s died from exhaustion. It seemed to know that I was there to get it on its back again and leave it in peace. It didn’t bite. It tickled though, those pointy legs. I was still afraid. Insects are nice to look at, yet not nice to hold. But the fear of being bitten was superseded by a will that something had to be done. To be honest, I really pitied it struggling to and fro to no avail. What’s more pitiful, I couldn’t looking at it in that way. One can stand one’s own suffering, yet no one can stand another’s.

The beetle’s fate is up to a higher power now. The hand by which it gained a second chance is now held by the hand of God.

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