Here is how I ended up hunting flies.
Tuesday night we hosted a dinner party, and because it was a cool evening and people were constantly coming in and out of the house, the doors were essentially open all evening. By the time we closed up the place, flies were everywhere.
We got the fly swatter and knocked down five, ten, a dozen. While we cleaned up the kitchen, the flies were of course homing in on all the food. We smacked another six or eight and thought we had gotten them all.
Heading up to bed, I saw a fly on the dining room table. I should have just gone to bed and I knew it, but I crept slowly back and grabbed my weapon. Swat! I almost went upstairs, but the perverse thought of more flies sent me creeping around the living room, then back into the kitchen. I spotted a few more, swung and missed.
In the morning I came down to find remnants of last night’s army raiding the kitchen. I terminated three—Pop! Pop! Pop!—just like that. There were no more in sight, and I should have just gotten to work on the piece I am writing, but I went looking for more.
It continued off-and-on like that for most of the day, until finally, standing stock still in the middle of the dining room without a fly in sight, sword quivering above my head, I broke into quiet laughter. Instead of getting on with my work, I was hunting . . . flies!
It didn’t take a lot of deep reflection to see how often we hunt flies instead of doing real and important things, big things. We chase hypothetical pests, tilt with tiny windmills, hunt for miniscule threats that aren’t really there. When we are not sure we can do the big thing, we obsess about little things, even imaginary things.
It takes constant inner vigilance to keep ourselves focused on the real work we are called to do—difficult and messy and maddeningly beautiful as it is—and not out hunting flies. But sometimes all we can do is laugh at ourselves, then check back into reality.