Is Weakness Really Strength in Disguise?
“Melissa” is Greek for honey bee. Thanks to my name, I’ve attracted all kinds of bee kitsch since I was a child. Honey bee, in turn, is somehow code for ‘cute’ in the cultural lexicon. Honey bees are depicted as fuzzy and bright. They make honey, and they hang out with flowers. They’re synonymous with sweetness and cheerfulness, qualities people tend to like, and encourage in a girl.
Here I am at thirteen, dressed up as a bumble bee for Halloween. Can you tell I was a late bloomer? I hung on to jump rope and jacks until well into junior high. My sister, on the other hand, seemed to jump into adulthood without looking back. A September baby, she was the youngest in her class, and might have felt a stronger push toward sophistication. In any case, the contrast in this picture fills me with a curious blend of embarrassment and respect. It’s like looking at a picture of my most vulnerable self, the one I still carry with me.
Growing up, I really didn’t like this soft, earnest side of me. Others seemed immediately adept at navigating the baffling nuances of the high school social world. Overnight, everyone had equipped themselves with veils of sarcasm and wit.
Growing up, I really didn’t like this soft, earnest side of me. But I wore my heart on my sleeve.
But I wore my heart on my sleeve. I trusted others implicitly, shared my thoughts readily, wounded quickly. I couldn’t tell when people were joking or serious.
In a strength-obsessed culture, it’s easy to discount the vulnerable, earnest parts of ourselves. The true and the genuine don’t conform to social prescriptions for confident, successful human beings. We’re somehow supposed to maintain a level of cool aloofness, even when it comes to the things we really care about. Is it any wonder we have trouble understanding our own emotions?
In a strength-obsessed culture, it’s easy to discount the vulnerable, earnest parts of ourselves.
This is how the story goes, anyway. But I suspect most of us want to unmask ourselves, and step out as the uncertain and flawed people we really are. Secretly, I think we’re all happiest when we find ways to be our ridiculous, earnest, bumble bee selves.
It has taken me some time to learn to value my honest enthusiasm and idealism, to temper it with a little realism and a healthy dose of skepticism. At thirty, I seem to have come full circle. My bleeding heart has led me to act in defense of some of our planet’s most vulnerable—and essential—creatures.
This summer, in a widely-publicized incident in my home state of Oregon, over 50,000 bumble bees were killed in a single parking lot, when blooming linden trees were treated with a toxic insecticide. Unfortunately, mass pollinator poisonings like this happen all the time in agricultural fields out of the public eye.
The incident seemed to symbolize the dangerous disconnect growing between humankind and every other living thing on the planet.
For me, it was the wakeup call I needed. I felt deeply sorry: these innocent beings were simply doing what the Creator made them to do. Because of human ignorance and negligence, they were needlessly killed. The incident seemed to symbolize the dangerous disconnect growing between humankind and every other living thing on the planet. I saw plainly that this disconnect was killing us, yet I felt powerless in the face of such a huge problem. How could I use my resources and experience, my Creator-given skills, to make a difference in the way we respond to crises like these?
What began as a simple idea has evolved into a call for collective, creative action. With the help of friends and family, I developed a project combining the power of expressive art with the mission of environmental conservation.
Winged: New Writing on Bees is a literary response to pollinator decline. It’s an anthology collecting the best of recent fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the human relationship with honey bees. Any proceeds from book sales will benefit pollinator conservation efforts.
When we’re in connection with others, we’re far more open to self-examination, leading to collective action and lasting change.
I believe that good writing has the power to transform and unite us. In literature, we connect at the level of sense and emotion. Rather than argue and defend, we share our personal experience with others. When we’re in connection with others, we’re far more open to self-examination, leading to collective action and lasting change.
Though the initial impetus came from the plight of bumble bees, my co-editor and I decided to focus on the pollinator with whom humans have the most interaction. Currently, honey bees also appear to be the most fragile among the many species of bee. Ultimately, when we care for one pollinator species, we care for all of them, and for ourselves. As our own weaknesses often turn out to be our greatest strengths, may the weakening of the bees finally strengthen our collective will to act, and move us to change.