The first twisp of spring flew about our kitchen one day last month. "Twisps," I call them, because my husband Dave hates wasps. By using their Native American name I hope to remind him of the Lakota phrase etched above our front door. Translated, it reads, "all my relations" or "all are related" or "we're all in this together." By subterfuge, then, I appeal to his big heart, remind him to treat even those he fears and despises with respect. Fine. He won't thwack twisps with the flyswatter if I capture them, carry them outside for release.
This twisp I encircled with a clear drinking glass, slid a recipe card over the mouth of the vessel, inverted it and carried said twisp outdoors into the sun. I held the glass upright, removed the card, waited to see him fly off. He was much too involved in grooming himself to take flight. I watched as he stroked his bald head several times with his two front legs. He reminded me of a cat cleaning itself with its paws. First his head, then each antenna. These seemed to have subtle joints in them. They bent in sections to the touch of his legs. He was very intent. Focused on one antenna, then the other, then back to the head again. Next he gave himself a backrub, petted his thorax, that little button of a body piece threaded directly behind his head. With his back legs he rubbed his abdomen—that stretched-out football of a heine—again and again. Employed his wings, too, to rub it, stroke it, soothe it. I almost fell asleep myself, it looked so relaxing.
I marveled at what a thin joint attaches such a big behind to his body--as if his waist were a size 3 and his buttocks a good 64 inches 'round. I drew the glass close to my face, wondered what it would be to slip a paring knife down inside and sever the twisp's butt from his body at that narrow isthmus. I watched him clean each wing in turn, then stroke each of his needle-thin hind legs. The only body parts I did not see him clean were his center legs. I presume he needed them to balance upon.
Ready at last, he buzzed up out of the glass, alighted on the roof and proceeded to clean his abdomen some more. So big a portion of his body appropriately demanded a large percentage of his attention. Then he was up, over the rooftop and out of sight.
He reminded me of the stereotypical gay man grooming himself. Except that he didn't change his clothes several times before leaving, he devoted as much attention to his appearance as does my friend Kellin before he steps out of the house each Saturday night to head for a smoke-filled, dimly lit bar where he proceeds to remove as many items of clothing as possible.
All my relations.
Though he said nary a word, Brother Twisp spoke volumes to me. He reminded me that I share much in common with all beings, no matter what their size, shape or intention. Even with those who would do me harm, those whom I fear, despise. They, too, cleanse.
We are all in this together. And together we wing our way towards a common fate. The poet Emily Dickinson writes: Death is the common right/ of toads and men/ of earl and midge the privilege.
Aware that death is in my future I find the present richer, fuller as I recognize parts of myself in all I meet. Maybe we do carry within us a spark of One light. With my Buddhist friends, I could bow to those I meet and say namaste—the light in me greets the light in you. Easiest to say this to my friends, but there are people aplenty in my world who carry the sting of prejudice, discrimination, bigotry. How to treat them with respect yet avoid their venom? Perhaps Sister Twisp (for she may well have been female) points the way. She suggests I try seeing myself in the smallest creatures I meet, practice saying, "All my relations." And mean it.
This essay first appeared in The Letter, June 2008