From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
I glimpse the grim, green metal mug
That masks this pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us. –The Praying Mantis by Ogden Nash
Ogden Nash may have perceived the praying mantis as a lost Atlantean, but for me, she was a tiny prophet offering salvation on a searing summer day. Moments before meeting the alien-esque visitor, my then-boyfriend and I had been arguing about nothing. We had been arguing about everything. In an effort to alleviate some of the financial stress from our situation, we had moved out of our home and were staying with relatives. It allowed him to leave his job and search for a healthier environment in which to work. Though for the better, things were no less turbulent. After six years together, we were at the lowest point in our relationship as well as our careers.
We were in Walmart to pick up his prescription. Knowing there was nothing I could do for him or his pain, I waited on a steely, cold metal bench and stared at rows of jumbled baskets. I was frazzled by the confused and hostile energy that had been swirling around us. I decided to create some “space” in my mind. Walmart was not the ideal location to meditate amidst the chaotic frenzy of shoppers and piles of distracting merchandise, but what did I have to lose? I no longer wanted to suffocate in our mare’s nest of heartache. I thought, “I am.” Thinking or vocalizing the phrase “I am” triggers a pause in the mind, or a space if you will, before the next thought comes rushing in behind it. In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle said being present is like hearing a new noise for the first time. A foreign noise catches your attention and holds it for a split second. You are not thinking of anything. You are silent, on alert, waiting for the noise again. Your brain hasn’t begun the process of puzzling out the source. I wanted to see everything around me without naming or judging it. For several minutes, my mind was blissfully blank. I was sitting next to a refrigerated cooler that displayed fresh bouquets. Tempted to curl up in the soft petals and dream of brighter days, I spied a pair of bulbous black eyes perched atop a triangular green face. Apparently the “space” that I carved out had called forth a micro space alien! A praying mantis the size of my hand was clinging to a bouquet. The sight of the tiny oracle flooded me with gratitude. Seeing her arms suspended in prayer pose, I knew the universe had sent her to get my attention. The praying mantis is a symbol of contemplation and meditation. Mantis is Greek for “prophet.” To the African Bushmen, it is the visitation of God on Earth. I could not have received a more perfect gift at a more perfect time. And yes, I say “her” for I had counted the rings of her abdomen!
I noticed this floral case colonist was missing part of her lower leg; thus, I named her Penelope, the Peg-Legged Mantis. I nudged her into my hand and gave her an insect elevator ride to my shirt. As lovely a grave as a bed of flowers would make, I did not want her pressed between rose petals or crushed in that refrigerated coffin. Rounding the corner, my boyfriend spied her on my shirt. He nearly stomped his foot in dismay. Begrudgingly he said, “This is why I love you.” We had been in such a dark place that it was hard for him to even admit there was something loveable about me, but who could resist the transfixing gaze of the little wanderer on my shoulder? During the drive home, she clung to the seatbelt like an adventurous pirate suspended from the ship’s mast as my boyfriend and I navigated the choppy seas of silence. When we arrived, I released her into the welcoming trees and warm winds of the afternoon. For the remainder of the day, I said hello as I passed, always making sure to acknowledge her presence. Not one to linger, she disappeared into the leaves. I imagine she moved on to offer atonement and bear witness to the lives of other dreary humans.
I later spoke of this encounter at a Writer’s Workshop taught by Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for writing Eat, Pray, Love. She was “eavesdropping” as she I recounted the story to my workshop partner. Liz, as she referred to herself, said she was always thrilled to find a praying mantis in her garden, but “at a friggin’ Walmart? Are you kidding me?” She exclaimed, “You lady, are touched by faeries!” And yes, I like to believe that I am. I will never take for granted what may be a seemingly tiny and insignificant miracle to the uninitiated. For those who live in gratitude, the praying mantis was a messenger. She was my gorgeous goggle-eyed miracle.