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“When your neighbor’s wall breaks, your own is in danger.”

“When your neighbor’s wall breaks, your own is in danger”

–Icelandic proverb

The fire ants of the Amazon rain forest inhabit a world teeming with life, but also with fierce dangers and intense competition. Among the challenges that they and many of the forest’s other creatures face are frequent, prolonged floods. When the mighty Amazon and its many tributaries crest their banks, the dry forest floor becomes more of a lake. That would be a threat to almost any land animal; it’s especially challenging for an ant.

Their solution to this problem is a striking example of life’s creativity in adapting to survive. When the flood waters come, the ants build a raft. Out of themselves. Crawling over one another they interlock special fibers on their legs. The whole churning mass of ants floats, keeping most of them above the water’s surface. The rest continue to breathe from tiny air bubbles trapped around their bodies. Worker ants on the top of the raft are free to move around and care for their nest’s young. This is not just a short-term solution: it can last for months. Long enough for the flood to subside, or simply to drift to wherever the new shoreline is.

We humans, yet another of nature’s fascinatingly creative animals, may not have the evolutionary capacity for this particular parlor trick, but it remains astounding what we can do when we work together in community. It’s common to point to great works of construction and architecture to illustrate what we can accomplish by cooperating. Edifices like the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the CN Tower in Toronto are certainly impressive, but for my part it is the ability of humans to improve and ennoble the lives of humans that truly astounds. The ingenuity and determination of citizens confronting their governments in pursuit of freedom. Our ability to illuminate deadly childhood diseases through study, experimentation, and eventually vaccination. Collective responses of compassion and healing in the wake of danger, disaster, or death.

That all may be on a big scale, but all the way down to the individual level, we need each other. A study published in 2010 found that establishing and maintaining deep social relationships increased the likelihood of survival for the study’s participants by 50%. That makes the implications for personal health of maintaining interpersonal connections roughly as compelling as quitting smoking. We need each other in order to navigate the twists and turns of life, as assuredly as those ants need each other in order to stay afloat.

In all four of the canonical Gospels, we find the story commonly called the Feeding of the 5,000 – in which 5,000 men (and an uncounted number of women and children) share five loaves of bread and two fish and find themselves with so much food that even after they’re all full, they still have left-overs. The teacher Jesus presides over the whole affair – this is held in the orthodox understanding to be one of his greatest miracles. But whatever the story might say about Jesus, it says something also about the unnamed, and largely uncounted multitude. The people shared. Somehow, what there was became enough. Life, in all of its abundant creativity, found the means to thrive under harsh conditions. The things we can accomplish in community, when we believe that someone else’s good is our good as well, are great. So great that they can outstrip even our expectations of what is possible.

Later this month, the collective power of community and the need for it to sustain human life will come together in a deep way. Once again we are hosting homeless families through the Family Promise program. Once again, we’ll be working to make our house of worship into a house of residence for a week, and doing together all the many jobs that allow us to host our guests, to feed and shelter them and offer our hospitality. If you’ve volunteered with this effort before, I thank you and encourage you to do so again. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity, I urge you to seize it: there are a lot of different ways to be a part of this, many of them tailored for single people and families, introverts, extroverts, and even relatively young children. I urge you to take part not just because our guests need something from us, but also because we need something from them and from each other. We need, as human beings, the power, the creative energy, and the very sustenance of life that being in relationship with one another affords.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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