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.
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.
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?
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 USmantis.com:
- “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…