Covid-19 Mask Mandates: Lessons from a Praying Mantis

–How you can reduce pandemic stress as Delta variant surges

Recently I received a surprise visit from an alien-like insect that people rarely encounter…that being the elusive praying mantis. The last time I saw one was decades ago as a teenager.

How about you?

This time, however, the freaky-looking green stick figure was staring at me from the other side of the sliding glass door connecting to my balcony. My wife and I reside on a high floor of a high-rise building just outside of the nation’s capital. While I can see the Washington Monument and National Cathedral from this perch, at first I failed to see what was right in front of me that morning. Some people say that you don’t find a praying mantis, rather it finds you. This helps to explain why I was so jolted at first sight.

Several questions raced through my mind:

  • How did the praying mantis arrive above the 15th floor?
  • Why was it on my balcony when it could have been anywhere else?
  • Was this unexpected visitation mere happenstance or something more?

I was baffled for minutes as the praying mantis stood motionless staring at me with its bulging eyes, triangular head, and elongated body. Then, upon further contemplation, a more profound question arose:

Could this bizarre creature be delivering a message at a time when Covid-19 mask mandates were being reinstated at indoor public spaces throughout the Washington, DC-area and across the country? And, if yes, what the heck was this praying mantis trying to tell me?

Turning the Corner

Like millions of Americans, I’ve been stressed out and edgy since the pandemic began proliferating last March. My mental health has been negatively affected by periodic anxiety, intermittent sleep, and bouts of minor depression — despite late-night binge-watching on Netflix and HBO Max.

As if that weren’t enough, I have always been a so-called germaphobe. This condition was only exacerbated by the prolonged pandemic, as I never left home without taking anti-bacterial hand wipes or hand sanitizer (which I bought in bulk on Amazon, along with masks, toilet paper, and an assortment of other pandemic-related necessities). Masking and social distancing were already no-brainers. Sometimes I even wore vinyl gloves to avoid touching door handles and elevator buttons, for instance.

Finally, through mid-summer, it appeared that the Covid-19 calculus was trending in the right direction. Hallelujah!

New infections were nearing 10,000 per day nationwide, a significant milestone of progress, as communicated by infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH. Moreover, hospital ICU capacity was increasing while Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths were decreasing. Parts of the country were slowly starting to reopen without indoor masking at restaurants and retail stores, including here in the Washington, DC-area.

Was this at long last “the light at the end of the tunnel” which all the TV talking heads promised was coming soon? There were celebratory welcome signs that the country was finally turning the corner toward some semblance of normality…or so we thought.

Delta Doomsday

It appeared that the tumultuous time of lockdowns, remote working, distance learning, indoor mask mandates, and social distancing was almost over. Then came the rapid rise of the dreaded Delta variant.

Damn it!

Delta felt like doomsday. Were we slipping back into a collective abyss of disfunction and despair? Almost everyone I knew — myself included — was frantic, frustrated, agitated, and aghast at this cruel reversal of fortune.

That’s when the praying mantis paid me a visit.

The day before I spotted the praying mantis, I had been out food shopping with my wife. But an unfortunate incident occurred… We entered the small gourmet grocery store in a single lane with no elbow room. But the entrance was blocked by someone who decided to just stop moving, similar to a car breaking down in the middle of a busy intersection. Several seconds passed. The person was not budging. That’s when I lost my cool, as too many of us have been prone to do during this period of pandemic. My anger boiled over and frustration got the best of me. I loudly lashed out at the sluggish shopper due to what I perceived as yet another person who was self-centered, intentionally selfish, and rude by purposely exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior — both literally and figuratively, as we could not pass.

A short verbal exchange ensued in which I lectured the individual about appropriate etiquette, particularly amid the mask mandate renewal. Then I walked away, helped my wife fill the grocery cart, and we left the store to head home for dinner.

Back home, however, my wife was upset at my unbecoming behavior toward a stranger, albeit a discourteous one. To her credit, my wife prides herself on always acting graciously and respectfully, both in public and private. She has immaculate manners coupled with the proverbial patience of a saint. She could have written the seminal book, Emily Post’s Etiquette, which was first published in 1922.

Why couldn’t I be more respectful and empathetic to a stranger, even an annoyingly intransigent one, during this painstakingly prolonged Covid-19 contagion?

Strange Messenger

So what was the message from this strange praying mantis the next morning? Were there any meaningful life lessons to learn from this unique experience? The lessons were simple: Be calm. Remain still. Resist knee-jerk reactions. Be deliberate before making any sudden or rash moves. These are some of the timely positive traits exhibited by the praying mantis. What takeaways, if any, have you had after seeing one (if ever)?

According to

  • “Overwhelmingly in most cultures, the mantis is a symbol of stillness.”
  • “As such, she is an ambassador from the animal kingdom giving testimony to the benefits of meditation, and calming our minds.”
  • “An appearance from the mantis is a message to be still, go within, meditate, get quite and reach a place of calm.”

As you likely know, the praying mantis gets her name from the manner in which her forearms are folded in prayer. You may also be aware that the females are known to kill, decapitate and eat their male counterparts during and/or after mating. Ouch!

This reminded me of two more vital life lessons related to the pandemic, especially now, during the reinstatement of indoor mask mandates in public places.

First, during downtrodden times it’s helpful to pray and keep the faith. Remember that better days lie ahead. As the Bible states in Psalm 30:5:

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

And second, of likewise importance, don’t royally piss off your wife during these uncertain and traumatic times — or at any other time if you want to maintain a lasting happy marriage.

I have the humble praying mantis to thank for renewing my wisdom.

What do YOU think? Please share your valuable feedback in the comment section below. Let’s engage in a discussion…


David B. Grinberg
David B. Grinberg
David is a strategic communications consultant, ghostwriter, and literary PR agent on issues of workforce diversity, equal employment opportunity, race and gender equity, and other social justice causes. He is a former career spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he managed media relations for agency headquarters and 50 field offices nationwide for over a decade. Prior to his public service at the EEOC, David was a young political appointee for President Bill Clinton in the White House: Office of Presidential Personnel, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A native New Yorker and University of Maryland graduate, David began his career in journalism. You can find David online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, Good Men Project, Thrive Global, BIZCATALYST 360°, and American Diversity Report.

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  1. Several components related to individual motivation are strongly influenced by the longevity of the pandemic.
    First, the perceived threat of the virus may diminish as people become accustomed to its existence. At the same time, the perceived sense of loss resulting from the response to the pandemic (blockages, restrictions) is likely to increase over time as people experience the consequences of the restrictions on a personal and social level.
    Second, a strong desire for self-determination and freedom can grow as restrictions continue over a long period, increasing the feeling of loss of control over one’s own lives.
    From this situation emerges the need for approaches that are able to reactivate a greater involvement of the population in the implementation of protective behaviors.
    Personally I believe that this so-called “free time” imposed on us by the precautions required by the pandemic to persist is the ideal time for spiritual activities, because they give you the opportunity to relax, reflect, think about the really important things and the purpose of life. Even if one is not religious, spirituality is very important to all people and taking care of this side of us is crucial for our health.

  2. David — Some of your best writing. I am not a person of religious faith, but I wholeheartedly believe that nature sends us messages. The fact that you were curious enough to research the mantis’ visit makes me smile. My wife and I were sitting on our balcony this spring with a view that comes nowhere close to the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral (but that’s another story) when an enormous hawk came out of nowhere right toward the railing in front of us, veering off only at the last second. Like you, we researched what its visit meant:

    “The hawk is a messenger bird. Usually when we see a hawk it means to pay attention because a message is coming to you. Hawks represent clear sightedness, being observant, our far memory and guardianship. They also bring courage, wisdom, illumination, creativity and truth. Hawks give us the ability to see the larger picture in life.”

    He or she landed on the building next door and kept a watchful eye on us. He or she then slept on our fire escape all night. Cool eh?

    In terms of your blow-up in the grocery store, well, it’s totally understandable. We all have our limits. And if that’s your worse venting with everything going on around us, I say “Well done!”

    • Jeff: I’m really flattered by your high praise and exemplary engagement — which means a lot to me coming from you. Interestingly, I am not a religious person either. My wife is Greek Orthodox and I am secular and spiritual. I do agree with you about nature sending us messages, especially about drastic climate change, but that’s another issue for another day. That sounds like a scary experience you had with the hawk. I periodically see hawks in the sky where I live (in suburban Md. just outside of DC). These wonders of nature are so fast and agile. Occasionally, one will perch on a corner of the roof of our building above the 20th floor (I suppose as a lookout point). Sometimes I check out these beautiful creatures with my binoculars. The only birds in my area which I don’t like are crows. That’s because they are noisy, and tend to crap on our windows and balconies. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a solution to keep them away.
      I thought you might enjoy this link about different types of hawks in Maryland
      I have always found peace and tranquillity in nature, which is arguably needed now more than ever to get through this tragic ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Thanks again, Jeff, for your gracious support. Please let me know whenever I can be helpful to you.
      [email protected]

  3. My grandfather added to the family arsenal a story with an ending that for your purpose, David, I will transcribe to “Why would I let a self-centered, intentionally selfish, rude, and passive-aggressive person decide how I must behave?”

    As it is not the first time this month I feel compelled to cite this story, I think it is obvious that we are all getting a bit on each other’s nerves after 17 months or so of basic anxiety about a life threatening disease.
    May it give us more compassion for the people who live with that level of stress all the time because of discrimination, bullying, food insecurity, homelessness, job loss, or all things worse than standing in line. (And then have a little compassion for ourselves when we are fallible human beings reacting from fear.)

    • Charlotte: I’m grateful for your meaningful feedback and wise words— with which I totally agree. In these times of trauma and uncertainty, we all need to count our blessings and remember how fortunate we are compared to other people living under worse circumstances. Thanks so much for contributing to this discussion.

  4. I know exactly how you feel, David. Some days I just go looking for people in stores who wear their masks leaving their noses free to infect up all.
    I can actually get away with the odd sarcastic comment, because I am (currently) the guy in the wheelchair. We’re all going through some stuff and I believe a lot of people have forgotten how to be courteous and thoughtful, having become hopelessly addicted to themselves during these times.
    At the same time, it’s getting harder and harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel terrible for all those who need to go to work to work. But I also blame the politicians who feel the need to make hay off of every issue that comes along. These are the biggest spreaders of disinformation. And the media who broadcast this out to people under the guise of it being their duty to keep the public (mis) informed.