The Gift of a Dead Bee
I’ve finally figured out how to deal with the gift of a dead bee.
It’s only taken most of my life, since no one ever told me what to do with one. Or, at least if someone did, per usual I ignored the advice.
Like most of valuable lessons, I’ve had to learn the hard way – through experience. And, to quote Randy Pausch, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
I’m a very experienced woman. And I’ve been given a lot of dead bees.
I’m not simply referring to the dead bees, or any other small critters, that my cat brings me as gifts. I’m referring to all the times I’ve been given something that was intended to be a gift – a piece of advice, a kind thought or even responsibility – that I didn’t want. Not only did I not want the gift, but I overreacted to it – if not outwardly then inwardly.
Unfortunately, I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy on dead bees.
My mother was a master at giving them. To be fair, just like my cat, she was giving dead bees out of love. But, unlike my cat’s gifts, hers were harder to deal with.
Even before I hit adolescence, I remember her telling me to accept my body type since it wasn’t going to meet society’s standards for the female form. “It’s o.k. to be a big-boned girl,” she told me. ” I always wanted to be small too, but it’s just not how we are built.”
Really? I don’t remember worrying about my body type. I remember complaining that I wasn’t cool, but I didn’t think that had anything to do with my size. In fact, I never thought my 11-year old body was particularly big… kind of dorky, maybe, but not big. But from that moment on, I was sure my hips were going to grow so large that I wouldn’t be able to walk through doors.
I was almost thirty before a doctor finally convinced me I simply didn’t fit the definition of “big-boned.”
But that was nothing compared to the dead bee my mom gave me when I was 16.
The gift came during a conversation in her car. She had been covering something for the newspaper and was all worked up about the unfair treatment of a female official.
“They just won’t listen to her.” she told me. “They won’t take her seriously because she’s attractive.”
And then my mother did something she rarely ever did. She actually turned and looked at me, instead of looking at the road, while she was driving. It was brief, but it was still memorable.
“You are so lucky,” she told me, “that you are smart rather than pretty.”
That bee stung even though it was already dead. Those are just words no 16 year-old girl wants to hear. Not only did they linger when they came out of her mouth, they hung in the air long enough for me to grab hold of them and carry them with me for years.
Since them, I’ve collected hundreds more dead bees from very well-intentioned people. But only recently have I understood that these dead bees were actually gifts.
My mother’s comments about my looks and my body helped shape who I am: someone who recognizes that character is far more important than appearance.
Dead bees also make good stories. And those who know me best know I’m always telling a story – whether the listener cares or not.
Finally, they shine a spotlight on what’s really important: the relationship with the giver.
A few weeks ago I was making the bed when I flipped up a blanket to find a dead bee on the sheet. My cat had brought me another gift. But instead of freaking out over the fact that I’d been sleeping with a bee, I just laughed. You see, Skitty isn’t the most affectionate cat in the world. My husband calls her mean, but I disagree. Every night, after she thinks we’ve all gone to sleep, she jumps onto the bed and curls up next to me. I love the fact she does that, and if it means dealing with a few dead bees in bed, I’ll accept the trade-off.
In fact, I’m getting really good at dealing with dead bees in general. All it takes is focusing on the intent of the giver rather than on the gift itself.
I say this in recognition of the biggest dead bee my mother ever gave me: the tendency to give them myself. I’m pretty sure I’ve exceeded her abilities at giving dead bees, and I’ve already given a lot of them to my own children.
I can only hope I’ve also passed on how to accept and even embrace them.