A Dancing Man and a Praying Mantis

Friday, Oct. 12, 2018
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

Driving into work I saw a man dancing in the back of a delivery van. It was eight in the morning, and three trucks were lined up, doors open, ready to be unloaded, but there he was, shimmying amid all the equipment. He turned around and I could see that he was singing. Then, completely unself-consciously, he began to dance for those of us stopped at the red light, motioning for us to join in his joy of the moment.

I confess I thought he was mad as a March hare, as my grandmother might have said. It was the beginning of a work day and there he was, dancing! As if the concerns of making a living weren’t serious, as if the political climate in our country weren’t explosive, as if children weren’t starving and the environment wasn’t being poisoned and war wasn’t raging over half the planet.

Instead he seemed to be reveling in the fact that he had a job that would put food on the table, that he was healthy and able to work, that it was a beautiful day with just a hint of fall in the air, that it was almost the start of a holiday weekend and, as if that weren’t enough to celebrate, there was a great song to dance to!

Not too long ago I was waiting for an appointment in the same room with several other people, one of them a mother with an infant. Suddenly the baby laughed, a sound of such pure joy that everyone nearby smiled, exchanging glances that for a moment drew us together as members of the human family rather than strangers wrapped in our own concerns.

I am by profession trained to ferret out what’s wrong, to fix typos before they make it into print, to ensure that correct grammar is used throughout and there’s a period at the end of every sentence. This focus on finding errors creeps into the world outside work so that I often feel “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell,” in the words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

In this grimy view of life, the sight of a dancing man or the sound of a laughing baby comes as cleansing rain, reminding me that if I would but shift my focus from “the last lights off the black West” I could see that in fact “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

A few hours after I saw the dancing man, while I was sitting at my desk working on the computer, a movement outside my office window caught my eye. It was a praying mantis, clinging to the wooden sill. Before grabbing my camera, I finished the last few sentences of the article I was editing. It took only a moment, but when again I looked to the window the mantis had gone, leaving only the memory of the insect whose name is derived from the Greek word for prophet, and so I wonder what message from God I might have gleaned had I put aside my work to glorify his creation.

Still, “nature is never spent,” as Hopkins observed, so perhaps one day another mantis will come along and I will think to take time to hear its message. Until then I will smile conspiratorially at the dancing men and laugh along with the chortling babies, because like the poet they see better than I the bright wings over this bent world.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.

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