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What Will Nourish Your Spirit Come Winter?

How to embrace “the ant and the grasshopper” thinking and make a positive impact on those around you in the coming months.

Contentment come winter
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“The Ant and the Grasshopper” is a classic fable with an ambivalent history. Since the fable was first told in ancient Greece, it’s had a number of endings and a number of lessons.

The basic tale is this: a grasshopper spends the summer dancing, celebrating the plenty of the growing world…and ridiculing the industrious ant, who is steadily spending the warm months gathering and planning for the sure-to-be-colder future. When winter comes, the grasshopper is starving while the ant is well supplied, comfortable and content.

Here’s where the story diverges depending on the teller. In one version, the ant is cheered for sarcastically telling the grasshopper to dance the winter away and see where that gets it. In another, the ant opens its door and welcomes a hungry friend to share in the plenty

In some versions, the ant is chastised for failing to teach the grasshopper a lesson by denying the insect’s begging request. Still others celebrate generosity as a top virtue. And some focus principally on the benefits of hard work, which gives the ant more choices for what to do with its carefully stored harvest

In researching this, I discovered that the 17th-century French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine ended his version of the story without a moral, without passing judgment. I like that, because it invites us to take the classic fable into our own hands, into our own time and decide how to use it in a positive way.

The coronavirus pandemic opens the door to this fable wide. And there are four moral possibilities we can carry with us from the lushness of this summer into the cold that will soon chill and quiet the air.

1)  Be the Ant: Stock Your Pantry

It’s pretty clear to me that the ant was on to something. When grocery stores are stocked, farm stands are teeming and backyard gardens prolific, we are wise to invest our time and energy in laying in a meaningful supply of healthy foods that can withstand the challenging months ahead. (You can start with these seven ideas.

2)  Be the Grasshopper: Dance While You Can

Still, the ant forgot to gather joy during the summer. In most versions of the story, the ant is industrious only, failing to be present to the beauty of the season. The grasshopper, in this way, models for us that while the grass is green, friends are outside and the sun is warm, we are wise to dance, to play and to rest. Joy is a four-season pursuit and a year-round necessity. 

3)  Be the Ant: Supply Yourself with Contentment

Fables anthropomorphize the animal world, and many illustrated versions I’ve seen depict the ant opening its door to the cold, hungry grasshopper, revealing a cozy interior complete with roaring fire, cozy robe and pleasing stacks of books next to inviting chairs. In addition to food, think ahead and imagine what will nourish your spirit this winter. Art supplies, firewood, candles, new board games, puzzles—what would be on the other side of your door?

4)  Be A Friend: Plan on Generosity

Of course, we can’t safely throw open our doors and invite others to warm and feed themselves as the coronavirus pandemic continues. But generosity is always a choice we have. Donations of food or grocery gift cards are welcome at food pantries and homeless shelters. 

If someone you know is hurting or facing scarcity, you can arrange for a delivery of a treat or food staples—you can even do so anonymously. You can also be generous with your love and support. Write a letter. Pick up the phone. Plan to stay connected when the winds howl and the snow falls. That way everyone can emerge fed, well and peaceful when the sun warms the earth again next year.

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