~ A tribute to Josef Pieper
The moral of the story from The Ants & The Grasshopper (above, as found at The Library of Congress), one of Aesop’s Fables, is among the most damning morals of any story ever told, at least since the morals of the Old Testament story (although in an altogether different way). In my failure to adequately censor the story selection suitable for my own children–Lord, have mercy–I made the tragic mistake of reading this utterly perverse fable to them at bedtime last night. Since it is impossible to un-tell a story once told, below I have written not so much an alternative reading but what I will tell as “the rest of the story” in a sequel under a similar title.
May the God of the Seventh Day redeem our work with his rest, his joy, his beauty, so that, in Plato’s words, “after being refreshed in the company of the gods,” we might again find the moral courage to “return to an upright posture.”
The Other Ants & The Grasshopper
One dark winter evening a family of Ants was dancing about the bonfire, celebrating during their annual season of play, when an ant from another colony, bored out of his everloving mind, wandered up, a sack of rations hanging heavy on his back, and knocked on the door. The music stopped with a screech, and one of the Ants (slightly annoyed by the interruption) opened the door, at which point the weary visitor humbly begged to join the party.
“What!” cried the Grasshopper in surprise from the mic on stage at the front.
Prior to this knock at the door, the Grasshopper had been leading the Ants in song and dance. The Ants and the Grasshopper had developed a symbiotic relationship, which began one late autumn day when the Ants approached a forlorn and half-starved Grasshopper, after being brought to tears while overhearing him play Mozart’s Requiem on his violin under a willow tree. They had never felt such a bright, longing sadness, or really much of anything, other than feeling a little hungry just before lunch breaks. So they approached the Grasshopper and asked him to join their colony. They offered to provide him with food and shelter in exchange for the Grasshopper providing them with music and laughter, as well as officiating weddings and funerals for them. The Ants taught the Grasshopper how to work with his hands, but his only real summer responsibility was to provide music at the work site, which they discovered actually made their time at work quite enjoyable, especially after he taught them how to whistle while they worked. They did let him work alongside them (on the rare occasion he actually wanted to), although he mostly just got in the way. But even his clumsy contributions were amusing to the Ants.
The Grasshopper, on the other hand, taught the Ants how to play and rest, which included all sorts of strange and properly useless activities. He taught them how to play instruments, even forming a summer internship program for a select group that would only work half-days in order to spend the second-half of each day practicing for the winter solstice celebrations. He taught them how to dance, or tried to anyway, and was always quite amused at their stiff and clumsy movements, often commenting at their uncanny ability to turn every dance move into “the robot.” He held cooking classes, teaching them how to think outside the box and to experiment with new recipes, an altogether unexpected contribution that changed their whole approach to and methods of food-gathering, which had formerly been one-dimensional, with the only goal of maximizing their “energy reserves.” This actually led to a reorganization of the entire colony into three primary work crews in a new division of labor (breakfast crew, lunch crew, and dinner crew), which were then subdivided into smaller work crews with various assignments, all with the goal of maximally diversifying the possibilities of each meal, right down to the smallest group assigned only with the task of gathering garnishes.
He also taught them about the visual arts, holding art appreciation classes on Tuesday evenings and painting seminars on Sunday afternoons, during which they never ceased to be astonished in discovering just how different each of them “looked” on the inside—through the array of unique expressions on the canvases. (It was actually this discovery that led to them taking individual names as well as beginning to name their children.) He even taught them a number of interior design techniques to help brighten up windowless living spaces, which they had found especially helpful for battling against their formerly unrecognized Seasonal Affect Disorder, apparently common to all ants, not only because of the darkness but because they never really knew what to do with the time, or with themselves, when they couldn’t spend it working.
“Haven’t you found anything worth celebrating in the winter? What in the world were you working for all last summer?”, asked Jim (one of the Ants).
“I didn’t have time to learn how to play,” whined the ant; “I was so busy storing up food for the winter that before I knew it, summer was gone.”
The Grasshopper and the rest of the Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.
“Storing up food, were you?,” they cried. “Very well; now eat!” And they slammed the door in the ant’s face, at which point the Ant family erupted in shouts of laughter as the music resumed and they went on with their celebration.
The lone ant sat outside, ear pressed against the door, and eventually starved to death. He hadn’t even finished his rations, for he had lost his appetite.
The moral of the story: there’s a time for work and a time for play.