It is said that all beings are interconnected, and that we only need to tune into the silence within ourselves to truly understand this. Not all of us believe this, however, and Geronimo was one of those people.
In his youth he had been a troublemaker as the result of being controlled by his parents and teachers, and he felt generally misunderstood. Perhaps this was because his rather large ego sent mixed messages into the world through a combination of hurting some while helping others.
For example, Geronimo took particular enjoyment in frying ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass, perhaps because as a child he had recurring dreams about them overtaking him while he slept. He dreamt of them biting him thousands of times while he slept, and he could remember so vividly when he awoke within his dreams the feeling of wanting to die. His dreams felt real, so real that he wasn’t ever quite sure that they were dreams until he awoke from them. The worst dreams were when he awoke, yet found himself to still be asleep having that nightmare.
Still, that didn’t change the fact that killing ants in his waking life felt justified. It was an eye for an eye, and from his perspective nobody was going blind. They were just stupid ants with no soul, no essense, no reason to be. To Geronimo, ants were a nuisance creature that should have never existed in the first place.
This destructive, abusive behavior was in stark contrast to his attitude towards people. He loved people, especially helping them succeed beyond their wildest dreams. A particular passion of his was to help groups of people that were being unjustly baised against in society, and he felt it was his duty to help right those wrongs. His ego led him to believe that he was these peoples’ savior, and that without his leadership and support they might never see justification. He never saw the irony…
Over time, Geronimo was successful in helping some of those wronged groups find their rights. So much so that he became a threat to the government in this third world country, and he was eventually framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Found guilty by an innocent jury that knew nothing of the corruption and deceit presented to them, Geronimo was sentenced to life in prison. Even worse, the first ten years of his sentence were to be served in solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a blessing to not have to deal with the ins and outs of the prison social structure. He didn’t have to worry about other inmates trying to take advantage of his newness, and he didn’t have to be concerned about whether or not the guards would beat him as was often the case. However, in exchange for the physical protections he had to give up some things people might consider far more precious.
His space was much smaller than what other inmates had, he had no bed, and there was only a small hole in the ground that served as a toilet. He slept on stone every night, but that wasn’t the worst part. In solitary confinement, there is no light. None. For ten years Geronimo spent his time in pitch black, and even worse, his food and water was sparse. Sometimes he wouldn’t be brought food for days, and his body had become weak, weary, and emaciated.
It was during this time in solitary confinement when Geronimo experienced the most excrutiating torment of his entire life. One night, while sleeping, he was overrun with ants exactly like his recurring dreams from years prior. The ants bit him fiercely, leaving welts all over his body, and when he awoke to them crawling all over he jumped up and started killing them.
Geronimo stomped and stomped. He flung them off of him, and he jumped up and down. He continued this until he felt no more ants on him and the room fell silent again. “Stupid insects,” he thought again to himself. “They know nothing.” And with that, he went back to sleep.
The next day, Geronimo was in for a big surprise. From a small opening in the darkness emerged a meal. An entire piece of stale bread, and a half cup of water. It was more than he had eaten in the last four days, so he was grateful. He lifted the bread to his mouth, took a bite, then set it down to enjoy a sip of water. When he went for his second bite, something incomprehensible had happened.
The bread was gone.
It had vanished into the mouths of the ants which were, yet again, also biting Geronimo unmercilessly. It was almost as though they knew he was the one who killed their ancestors from decades before and they were back for revenge. Night after night, the ants came back and the cycle repeated. Geronimo would stomp and jump, flick and fling, until all the ants left him alone. This continued for weeks, and Geronimo was genuinely concerned he might die from adverse reactions to all the bites.
Eventually, Geronimo gave up. He realized he couldn’t win this battle and accepted his fate. After eight years in solitary confinement, he was ready to die. When the ants came, Geronimo no longer had the will to fight them. He allowed their bites and stings to continue without resistance, and he counted the days until his death.
If the ants didn’t kill him the starvation would. He hadn’t eaten in over a week now, and he could feel the life slowly and progressively leaving his body. After a few more days, something miraculous happened — the ants no longer came to bite him. It was as if they had made their point, as though they had understood that there was no purpose to their own resistance of Geronimo, and thus there was peace in the cell for the first time in months. The ants knew that an eye for an eye makes the world blind, and they sensed that Geronimo finally understood this as well.
Now going on almost two weeks without food, Geronimo was coming to his last breaths. He wouldn’t have made it this long were it not for the water that was brought to him every other day. It was almost as though the guards wanted him to die of starvation. Maybe they did. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Either way, Geronimo was getting the short end of the stick. Then something miracoulous happened.
A little crumb of bread showed up in Geronimo’s hand. At first he didn’t understand it, but as hungry and mentally incapacitated as he was, he also didn’t question it. Gratitude filled his entire being, as he enjoyed the greatest crumb of bread he had ever known. A moment later, another crumb appeared in his hand. Again, he ate it graciously despite his confusion.
It wasn’t until he stopped trying to figure out what was happening that he came to understand. In his silence he felt something unusual… it was a massage from thousands of little feet on his hands. In this silence, in the peace when his mind no longer thought, he came to realize that the ants were bringing him food!
For the next two years that Geronimo remained in solitary confinement, the ants continued to bring him food. He regained his health, perhaps moreso than any other inmate in the prison, and more importantly, he gained a newfound gratitude for life in all its subtleties. Geronimo also gained thousands of new friends with whom the only common language was stillness.
After being released from solitary confinement, Geronimo spent the next twenty years in prison. It was different out there, with other people having opinions and thoughts… egos as they were called. Geronimo was different. His ego had dissipated as he came to realize that ants, the beings he once despised and killed, were in his opinion the greatest intelligence, the greatest teachers, and now, his greatest friends. So much so that no matter which cell he was moved to, the ants always managed to find him and bring him more food at night when nobody else could see.
It is said that all beings are interconnected, and that we only need to tune into the silence within ourselves to truly understand this. Not all of us believe this, but like Geronimo, eventually we all will.