Sense and Nonsense: On the Bug in the Window

Contrary to initial impressions, this column is not about a virus or bug in the Windows setup of my computer. Rather, it is about an actual bug on the screen of my window facing Dalghren Chapel and the early morning sun.

Looking out one day, I noticed a rather large—indeed, ugly—bug slowly crawling around on the screen. The hug was caught within the window-screen enclosure of about five by four feet with a depth of maybe five inches. This was its immediate world.

My screen has a couple of slashes in it through which the bug probably initially entered. The bug, of unidentified gender, had no companion; neither was I anxious to attract any. I had unpleasant visions of him deliberately creeping over me at three in the morning when I could not draw a clear bead on him. Apparently immobile, facing north, he was first located about three-quarters of the way up the screen. I was not sure if he was alive or dead.

My first instinct was to open up the window and bash him. I gave no thought of calling the Sierra Club or Ace Exterminators. Human rooms are for humans, not bugs. That is the natural law, no doubt of it. In any case, I was pretty sure, if it came to a war between the species, I could outsmart him. That is the right order of things, as laid out in Genesis. The morning after I spotted him, he, very much alive, had crawled to the top of the screen, ponderously, headed to its top left corner. With his six legs and two long feelers, he had no trouble negotiating the screen.

I began to wonder if he was hungry or thirsty. But I did not plan to leave him any water or scraps, partly because I did not know what the critter ate, partly because I secretly wanted him to “bug out” so I could open the window with the warmer spring air. Next, he made the corner, bypassing the slight hole in the screen an inch below his present location. St. Thomas says that nonrational beings know absolutely but do not figure out relations or order. This led me to assume he would never get out.

I gave no thought to naming him, as I understand such bugs reproduce by the hundreds of thousands. I was afraid his brothers and sisters would be jealous if he had a name and they didn’t. He was about three quarters of an inch long, with a brown, hard-looking shell. I wondered if the Japanese put chocolate on such beasties—not a profitable line of thought, I realized. On no account would I ever eat such a thing wrapped in anything. Again I wondered if he could get food and water from thin air. Well, I decided, he better because he was not going to get them from me.

As the days went on, he crawled back across the top of the screen. Then, during one of my absences from the room, he dropped down to the screen bottom. I figured that sooner or later I would see him flat on his back on the window sill, out like a light, exhausted from crawling around on that maze of a screen.

Finally, one evening, I came back to my room. Dutifully, I inspected the screen. Lo, he was not there. The bug was gone. Not a sign of him. He was not flat on his back. He defied death by starvation or dehydration. He had been safe from the birds because of the screen. But he must have found the hole in the screen through which he entered. Maybe he could reason after all!

Now, lest you think I have become rather, as the word goes, “buggy” myself, I have not, in my days, given much thought to insects. I once read that perhaps 60% of living matter on this planet is composed of various bugs and bug-like creatures. It takes rather a large amount of them to keep fish and birds going.

The fact is, I am glad he escaped, that I did not have eventually to smash him. St. Thomas implies that each particular being, like this bug on my screen, participates in existence. If we could understand its dependence on the First Cause of existence itself, we would see a mystery here that touches the origin of all things that are. Now, I am not given to such meditations every time I see a bug crawling down a tree. I belong to the “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” school of thought. Still, this little fellow made me think.


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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