I remember that when I was little, maybe three or four, I found an ant in our bathroom. Because I was still a cruel, insensitive child with no understanding of empathy, I proceeded to pull all six of its legs off, one by one.
I can’t remember whether my mother caught me or whether I actually took it to show her, git that I was, but either way she was very angry at me. She told me to think about how that would feel for the ant. And at that point, I had this epiphany, as though her words unlocked some door in me: this was a living, feeling creature in my hand, no different from me. I felt terrible. Probably not as bad as the ant, though.
It worked, apparently, because later I found a dead fly on our windowsill. This made me sad. I knew by then that you buried people after they died – to me there seemed no reason that insects should not be afforded the same honour. I picked it up and asked Mum if I should give it a little hexapod funeral.
She gave me a funny look and said I could if I really wanted to, but I had to wash my hands afterward. I took the tiny carcass into the front yard, scooped out a little hole in the dry soil, and buried the fly. None of its family or friends made an appearance.