A small chitinous lady landed on my little balcony this morning, a 4-inch long preying mantis, wearily looking for somewhere to lay her eggs.

I love mantids, love their ferocity, their intelligence, the way they eye you, daring you to just TRY something so they can trounce you.* A mantis moves through life supremely confident, supremely paranoid, without a shred of compassion.

Sometimes I want to be like that.

I named this one Maisie, and watched as she meticulously examined each leaf on the balcony floor. She’d approach, pick up one end in her grasping limbs, and turn it over, head cocked to the side, eyes scanning carefully for flaws.

Not one leaf suited, even when she re-examined a couple of the more promising specimens. She ran out of leaves and the sun came out, so for a moment she basked quietly in the warmth, watching me with swiveling eyes. Then she swung her swollen belly around and resumed her search.

The Elmo stories (of Elmo, my replacement knee and then the fight to save him when I smashed my femur) have been going on for more than two years now. People ask to read them start to finish, so I’ve set up this Saving Elmo index page to let you view the whole series in one swell foop.

Mantids don’t live long, eight months to a year on average and, watching her, it was pretty clear that Maisie was nearing the end of her span. She was heavy with eggs and dragging her abdomen on the ground, tattering a bit more with every step.

Yet she never stopped her search, pushing wearily along the textured floor of the balcony. When she did find what she sought, she’d cover it with a foamy mass of eggs. Her eggs would harden while Maisie died; she’d never witness spring’s emergence of the babies she’d so meticulously situated.

She focused on the task at hand, ignoring the pain and weariness in favor of the greater goal.

Sometimes I want to be like that.

Last night was painful; The Leg went past grumpy to electroshock-nasty, par for the course given the stretching I must continue to regain a bendable knee. It pushed sleep away and kept me awake all night, blearily seeking a respite from the ache. My back counted every spring in the mattress, hour by hour to dawn.

It’s easy to vow to push through the pain and exhaustion in the light of day, before you start your recovery. So much harder to remember that vow in the dark, to push on when you’re mid-journey, exhausted and sore, and the only way out is through.

I watched Maisie pushing leaves aside, scraping her way across the balcony, and sat up a bit straighter.

I’ve got a plane to walk off next month. Back to work.


* Famous family story: I had a thing for creepy crawlies as a child, i.e., my pets were just as likely to be snakes and toads and preying manti as fluffy kittens. Mom wasn’t a huge fan of my choices, but once, during a grandparent pilgrimage in North Carolina, she happened on a ginormous preying mantis outside a country grocery.

She knew immediately that I’d love it for a pet, but no way was she picking it up herself. So she fetched a box, poked some holes into it, and asked a kind local if he’d stuff the mantis inside. 

Mom bore a striking resemblance to Jackie Kennedy Onassis; the guy was happy to oblige. “Are you sure they don’t bite?” he asked jestingly. 

“Oh no,” she assured him, “My daughter handles them all the time.”

Famous last words. Guy grabs the mantis, mantis whips around, embedding its claws into his thumb. Guy screams, mantis digs in, and a short, bloody skirmish ended with a mangled thumb and a triumphant mantis flying into the night. 

Lesson learned: Don’t mess with BIG mantids. Good thing I didn’t keep cobras.