Bees have always scared me.
Seems there was always a hornet or wasp nest dangling from the corner of every porch I visited when I was little. Bulging underneath a light by the door or tucked into a crevice by a wind-chime, the sand-colored bee homes were as common on these porches as wooden swings and plastic cups full of Kool-Aid.
Whether only partially formed or completely constructed, these nests hung as a reminder that bees where nearby. So, even if I didn’t see a mud dauber in sight, I would perch on the edge of a folding chair, the webbing itching my bare legs, and ready myself to skedaddle in the event a returning insect with a stinger buzzed by. The moment I’d glimpse one, I’d go squealing off and some adult would come to my rescue with a can of poisonous spray — that is when I was quick.
Sometimes, a stinger or two was boring through my foot before I could escape. My foot would swell so big I wouldn’t be able to wear shoes — only socks for a week. After several stinging incidents, I learned that when I got stung, I had to race to the doctor for a shot. I was allergic and the EpiPen didn’t exist.
As a college student, I was responsible for my own safety. One afternoon as I sat in my dorm room, a wasp buzzed passed my face and landed on my salad. I didn’t have that handy black spray can. I wasn’t sure whether to swat it and risk it stinging me, or just head to the library in the hope it’d be gone when I returned.
After a short debate with myself, I decided I didn’t want to let the wasp out of my sight and chance it hiding somewhere like under the rim of the commode seat. I figured I’d rather know where it was so I opened my window and watched it carefully until it flew out and into the wild.
Bees have continued to buzz through my life, always sending me off in a screaming panic. That is, until last summer when I was faced with confronting my fear or packing up my meal and laptop from the table at my favorite outdoor bistro.
A wasp had landed on the leaf of a tree that was only a few inches from my arm. I was both frightened and angry to think that such a tiny insect had the ability to threaten my peace — to make me feel like a vulnerable little girl sitting all alone on a porch just waiting to be attacked.
I decided I wanted to see what happened if I stopped being scared, but the fear inside me wasn’t going to leave willingly — no, I had to do something different. So, I sat. I didn’t run. I just sat, my heart racing.
At least I was doing something I hadn’t done before. The outcome, therefore, had to be different. Maybe the wasp would land on my hand and not sting me, or maybe it would sense my resolve and fly away, or maybe rain would fall, disturbing its peace like the wasp’s presence disturbed mine.
As I sat conjuring up all the possible outcomes, I realized nothing I was envisioning was actually happening — absolutely nothing — and this nothing meant everything to me.
I pretended to read, glancing at the wasp every so often until, finally, I was staring at it — staring at this tiny, winged being that had frightened me my whole life. The wasp and I spent a long five minutes together that afternoon, inches away from each other, and neither of us got hurt.
The experience made me wonder if I’d have embraced my fear of bees years ago, would I have conquered bigger fears sooner, like skydiving and speaking in front of a large crowd. I’ll never know, but I know that now when I hear myself saying, “Run!” — unless there’s a grizzly on my heels — I tell the fear in my head to buzz off.
I’m not sure if that wasp learned anything from me, but that tiny wasp taught me a most monumental lesson.
Poison doesn’t just come in a can — it can spray through my head and, well … I think I’d rather get stung.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.