A Momentary Encounter with Natural Beauty

I just clawed my way out of a deep sleep. It’s not typical of me to take naps in the middle of the day. It used to be, but not anymore. Nowadays, if I do such a thing it’s because I don’t feel well. Don’t judge, it’s what we’re supposed to do, right? When we’re feeling sick to our stomachs or having a terrible, pounding headache? Anyway, I fell into this deep sleep approximately two—no, if I’m being honest, it was more like three—hours ago, after gorging myself on some freshly cut watermelon. I had just come home from a nearly seven-mile-long walk around the neighborhood with my dad. This is a very typical activity, and you might even use it as an explanation as to why I don’t spend enough time on my job search everyday. I know I do. But for some strange reason, today’s walk, which wasn’t the longest ever by any stretch of the imagination, was especially brutalizing. I chalk it up to the heat (we were walking during peak sun hours, with virtually no shade). Today was hotter than I was expecting, but thankfully not at all humid. But I don’t want to tell a story about heat and exhaustion; I want to tell one about despair.

One of the reasons for our going out was so that my dad could drop off some food for the Saturday morning kiddush he attends every week after services. As we approached the synagogue, I was already tired, and I preferred to take a shortcut to the entrance rather than follow my dad’s route, which would have us walk around the entire parking lot only to approach the doors from a pedestrian-friendly vantage point. But guess which path we took? So, as we walked around the corner and over to the sidewalk that would lead us up to the synagogue’s entrance, we came upon a praying mantis crawling in the shul‘s driveway, its bright green body in sharp contrast to the asphalt ground. I had never seen one of these creatures live and in person before; I was ecstatic. Dad got close to it, even touching its chest with his finger, all while asking me, “They don’t hurt you, do they?” He defers to me on the topic of insects a lot, because I took one entomology class in college. And no, they don’t hurt you, I told him. Only if you’re a female’s partner in copulation should you be wary, as she is more than likely to eat you up after the deed’s done. “Haven’t you seen Nine Months?” I ask him.

The praying mantis we met looked a lot like this one. Photo courtesy of http://www.herpindiego.com.

Our short introductory encounter with the praying mantis soon came to an end. As we trudged up the hill to the entrance, I thought how lucky I was to have seen it up-close. All because we took the long way around. I looked back, over my shoulder, at least twice, marveling at how from fifty feet away, I could still see it struggling to cross the road. Its movements almost looked counterproductive to its goal: for every step forward, it appeared as if the praying mantis was taking two steps back. And its whole body rocked due to this rhythm. I couldn’t wait to meet it again on the way back down, as we continued on our walk.

On the way back, I could see its wings fluttering from afar. We inspected the scene, only to find out that indeed the praying mantis had been run over by a car. In the moment of that realization, I cursed myself for not attempting to move it out of the line of traffic and into safety when we first met. I think my dad must have been stunned by my visceral reaction. I didn’t cry or anything, but I was very visibly upset that something so beautiful had been struck down. I acknowledged the hypocrisy of my grief (“I know I kill bugs, too, but this was special“), and I couldn’t stop thinking of the poor praying mantis all throughout our walk.

Later on, as we were approaching the end of our walk, I said out of nowhere to Dad, as the thought came to me, “It’s highly ironic, huh, that the praying mantis should meet its end at a house of worship, don’tcha think?” Ruefully, my dad agreed. I continued: “I guess that goes to show you praying doesn’t do jack shit.”

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