Better Angels: Consider the humble honeybee
Better Angels: Charlie Koenen
On a bright day, in a blistering cold, two men walk up Wisconsin Ave. toward Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Salt, not quite melted by a light morning snow, crunches under their boots.
The men keep their heads hunched into the shoulders of their coats and their heads bowed against a faint but no less biting wind. When they reach the church, they stop.
Redeemer is located just west of the Marquette University campus, in a neighborhood tattered by poverty.
A part of the church's mission is to include itself in the community around it. The church seeks to be more than a benevolent presence; it seeks to be itself a part of the neighborhood, an attribute, like the neighborhood's sidewalks and trees.
Five days a week, Redeemer offers noontime meals.
The two men are a little early.
One stays on the sidewalk while the other goes up a short walkway and, with an ungloved hand, tugs open the church's door.
On a roof above the men is a small apiary, established three years ago by beekeeper Charlie Koenen. Two of the apiary’s three hives have died this winter. But one is still flourishing.
It contains 10,000 to 15,000 honeybees. They are in their winter stupor, slowly rotating in a hibernated pattern that keeps the center of the mass, where the queen resides, at 92 degrees.
Near the living hive, a dozen or so frozen bees dot the snow.
Charlie’s office is beside the church’s dining room and he often helps with the community lunch. He likes to sit with people and talk about the beehives on the church’s roof.
Some are interested. Some are not. Those who are, Charlie invites upstairs, shows them the hives, invites them to learn beekeeping.
Charlie believes that being exposed to bees can make people better and that keeping an apiary on the roof of a church can deepen its members' sense of community.
He often refers to his hives as congregations and to those who join him in caring for them as "beevangelists."
What bees are able to accomplish strikes Charlie as heroic.
"For one pound of honey, bees have to fly the equivalent of 55,000 miles," he says.
"It's incredible to think of the volume of work necessary to make that stuff. You look at one individual bee, and it can, in its entire 30-day lifespan, get 1/12th of a teaspoon.
"So think of this in the big picture. It's amazing what this community effort does to make this all happen. That's a lesson everybody gets, in some kind of way or another: Many hands make light the work."
There are no self-made bees in this world. No bee has ever gone its own way and accomplished great things.
Which is not to condemn self-reliance or individualism. It's just that those are not the values bees teach us.
What Charlie admires is not simply how hard bees work.
It's that they work so hard for each other.
Join us in telling the stories of our better angels, of the kindness, compassion and decency that brighten our community. Call or text Crocker Stephenson at 414.858-6181. Or email him at email@example.com.