My mother is the only person to ever give me a diamond. Yet, even she kept taking it back.
Once I put all the pieces of this story together it became a possibility to me that this praying mantis, this “Symbol of God”, this “Divine Messenger” could be my mother and she could very well want her necklace back.
The praying mantis is a symbol of stillness , patience, awareness, creativity. It’s a symbol of mindfulness, calm, balance and intuition. Supposedly when a praying mantis visits you, it’s prophetic. It’s like the praying mantis is a prophet.
The Will of God
My mom sat peacefully in the front seat of my car. Andrea Bocelli entertained us all the way up Route 9. He sang with The Three Tenors, with Céline Dion and weirdly with Ed Sheeran. We watched as the Atlantic City skyline disappeared in the rearview mirror. It was a warm summer day. We stopped for soft serve. Then sometime after making it through the entire Pine Barrens we shifted to Elvis. It just seemed right.
We had almost arrived home when a neighbor sat in his car blocking the road. This altercation led to an unfortunate series of events, a broken windshield, police reports and threats of bodily harm.
Realizing that I might need a lawyer, I called my cousin who is also my lawyer, who is also my mother’s godchild, who is also an ex-nun. Along with some sound legal advice she offered the hypothesis that my neighbor threatened to kill me because my mother’s spirit was not at rest. She accused me of messing around with the will of God. She insisted that I find a priest to bless my mother’s ashes right then and there.
So, because I am no expert on God’s will, the very next day I brought my mother’s ashes into St Edwards Catholic Church. With no priest in sight, I took it upon myself to bless her ashes with a splash of holy water. We knelt together to light a candle. I put $5 in the donation box. We did something like praying. It was a nice church. There were some super sweet icons hanging on the walls. It was nothing like an Atlantic City version of a church. But I liked it.
The very next day, St Edwards church got slammed during Hurricane Ida with some really intense flooding from the Creek nearby. Ultimately it was fine, but kinda creepy, nonetheless.
The gift that keeps on giving and taking and giving…
As I remember it today, the first time she gifted the necklace to me was after my confirmation. But that couldn’t be the truth. I was only 13 years old. Why would she give a 13 year old a diamond necklace? So if that wasn’t the truth, then my next memory of having been gifted the necklace was my high school graduation. Although, that as well seemed unlikely. I was only 16 years old when I graduated high school and more than a little bit rebellious. A diamond necklace would not have been safe with me. The third time I recalled having been gifted the necklace was at my college graduation. But that couldn’t be the truth, either, because my mother was not at my graduation. My father took the ride upstate. It was a full six and a half hour drive from the South Shore of Long Island. After my Dad took me and a few of my friends out for a nice lunch, he drove right back home.
But this is not a story about my father. This is a story about my mother and that diamond necklace.
I clearly remember that she took it back when I lived in a railroad flat on Bushwick Ave in Brooklyn in the late 1980s. So, she must have given it to me after I graduated something. Unless a thief was a glutton for punishment the last place they would look for anything valuable would be rummaging through my artwork. So, I hid the necklace in a Kodachrome slide box that was also filled with slides of my artwork.
When my mother asked why I didn’t wear the necklace I stated the obvious, “I live on Bushwick Ave, I take the ‘L’ train to Union Square every day, and I walk to work from there. I don’t want to get mugged for wearing a diamond necklace AND I am afraid that I might lose it.”
She took the necklace out of the slide box and placed it back around her neck.
When I got married, she gave it back to me again. I wore it on my wedding day. Then at some point she took it back again saying something about just “seeing it laying around on my dresser out in the open”.
Then when I gave birth to my son, my first child, in a fit of melancholy she gave it back to me again. I took it that time. Yet somehow, she got it back again. There were many other attempts at gifting the necklace. Probably when I turned 40 or 50, something like a real birthday here or there maybe when I bought my first house. Maybe even when Ripley was born. Over the years, she kept trying to re-gift it. At some point I just stopped accepting it.
Soon after my father passed away, she gave one final attempt. At that point she was 89 years old. As she was drinking her coffee and reading her newspaper, I joined her at the breakfast table. She removed the necklace, pulled it over her head then placed it over my head and said, “This is the last time.” It was the last time.
The praying mantis, the yellow lamp, and the final attempt to get that diamond necklace back.
Did you know that the Kalahari Bushmen consider the mantis the oldest symbol of God? I found this fact ironic considering that I had just read “The Old Way”, a story of the first people, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. It’s all about her time with the Kalahari Bushmen. And, did you know there is an entire website called usmantis.com? I found a lot of groovy mantoid facts on that website. You can even buy mantis egg sacs for your garden or your classroom! Who knew?
With my mother’s ashes freshly blessed and her and the diamond necklace draped around my and formerly her, yellow enamel lamp, I sat working at my computer.
I don’t know if she was hiding in the lamp, or if she flew over to the lamp, but the freaky moment the praying mantis allowed herself to be seen, catapulted me right off my computer chair. I found myself with my hands over my mouth in disbelief. A mental flash of Sigourney Weaver with that false sense of safely, falsely believing that she had killed the alien, came to mind. The praying mantis hands dropped the same exact way, at the same exact speed, suddenly and unexpectedly as the Alien did when she revealed herself hiding in the shuttle’s dashboard. And remember when the Aliens’ head twisted ever so slowly to take a look at Lieutenant Ripley?? The mantis’ head twisted ever so slowly to look at me. Or maybe she was turning to look at the necklace. Either, it was totally uncanny.
This event had no small significance for me. I named my daughter Ripley after that Sigourney Weaver character in Aliens. This was an important set of symbols for me to decipher.
After I accepted the reality that I was sharing my entire afternoon with a Praying Mantis that was about sixteen inches from my face and about three inches from the diamond necklace, a recollection surfaced.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are about my mother’s fear of the natural world. This one was all about a praying mantis.
I was standing at my mother’s side while she was talking to a neighbor on our front stoop in Brooklyn. There was a praying mantis just sitting on her shoulder. It terrified her. Then it terrified me! it terrified us both together.