Supposedly, in some cultures, there is a belief that if you save someone’s life you then become responsible for that person. I did extensive research (five whole minutes with Google) and didn’t find any evidence that this is actually true.
Which makes sense, since the whole idea seems backwards. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it the other way around? The savee, after all, is the one owing a debt to the saver. Not to mention that potential rescuers might be discouraged from saving anyone’s life in the first place, given the potential long-term consequences.
But my real question at the moment is whether this tradition, if it even exists, applies to non-human species. Insects, specifically.
Every fall, when the weather gets cold, we have a mild invasion of wasps. They either migrate inside to keep from freezing to death, or they emerge—and this is not a happy thought—from wherever they have been living inside the walls.
A few weeks ago, when temperatures were falling below zero, one of these wasps took up residence in the kitchen sink. Not the smartest place to settle. For one thing, the stainless steel got so cold overnight that the wasp was too numb to move by morning. Besides, a sink is a place where water can gush forth at random intervals and unpredictable temperatures. Innocent insects are at constant risk of being plunged into a maelstrom that will take them down the drain to a watery death.
I rescued this particular wasp at least twice, plucking it out of the sink before I committed the potentially lethal act of washing dishes. After that, while it tended to stay out of the sink, it still made a nuisance of itself by crawling around on the counter or perching on the faucet. The fact that it didn’t ever sting me in a moment of ungratefulness was due solely to my being careful not to accidentally put my hand on it.
The critter was annoying. I really didn’t want it around. Still, since I had saved its life, I couldn’t bring myself to swat it or toss it outside to perish in the cold. It would have been too much like healing a convicted murderer’s life-threatening illness in order to have him healthy enough to walk to the electric chair. I just couldn’t handle the irony.
So I put up with its presence for several days, moving dishes around it and checking to make sure it wasn’t lurking in the sink before I turned on the water.
Then Monday came. And with it, the wonderful woman who cleans our house every other week. She hates wasps. Unlike me, she had no relationship with this one.
I was conveniently out of the house while she was cleaning. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I can spell “plausible deniability.”)
When I came back, the house was clean. The kitchen counter was polished. The sink was gleaming.
And the wasp, by strange coincidence, was nowhere to be seen.