The moth was clinging to the bathroom ceiling.
At first it attached itself to the ceiling right over the shower. I looked up at it, big and dark brown, clutching tightly to the white drywall, and shook my head. For years I’ve liked to take moths out of the house and release them outside. Usually, unless they’re too weak to take flight, I catch them in a glass, put a top on (a postcard or even a tissue), take them out, remove the top and shake the glass free. Love to watch them flying out. But I’d need to bring the step ladder upstairs and put it on the shower floor, which I didn’t trust.
It felt like that whole day I checked the whereabouts of that moth, wishing it would move someplace lower. When I woke up the next morning, I found that it had moved out of the shower but was still attached to the bathroom ceiling. This was an opportunity to mentally review the things I used to do easily and without thought just a short time ago, and how I hesitate to do them now. Get up on the step ladder, strain up towards the ceiling with the glass, try not to hurt the moth as I slide something on top, keeping my balance throughout, and come down safely, covered glass still intact.
I didn’t do it.
The next day I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere, behind towels and faucets, and on the floor in case it had finally collapsed. Wondered if it had gotten out of the bathroom, but then, where did it go?
We always keep an oil candle burning on the Kwan-yin altar, which shows the Goddess of Compassion, a gift from Vietnam, alongside Maria of Guadalupe, which we had gotten as a gift from Shaykha Amina Teslima al-Jerrahi in Mexico City. The altar contains ashes of those who died as well as photos. But in the summer moths get into the house and get immolated by the candle so I don’t let it burn during those months. Instead, the moths fly into the house and attach themselves to different walls and counters, and I retrieve them.
The moth in the bathroom reminded me that summer is passing, fewer moths in the house, soon I could light the candle again and let it burn till next May. Please come down so that I could get you, I asked it silently for a couple of days. Instead, it’s gone, probably dead.
I was surprised by the sudden surge of sadness. So many die every day, but this one I kept careful track of. It was big, clinging fearfully to the ceiling, not approaching the light bulbs over the mirror. Infinite beings die all the time, why did this one touch me so deeply? I would check its whereabouts even in middle-of-the-night peeing visits, blinking sleepily as I looked up.
In fact, why did I feel any concern at all? Henry and Aussie don’t worry about moths, or about anyone’s wellbeing other than their own. How is it that humans do? We criticize ourselves so much for caring too little, but it’s quite miraculous how much we do care about nonhuman beings. How we look down nervously at the brown grass and the thirsty earth in this summer’s drought, how relieved we feel as the leaves tremble under the first raindrops, how we feed birds and chipmunks, watching carefully for deer as we navigate the roads at night. Our sense of family, of clan, of home is remarkably wider than that of other species. We care a lot about beings that don’t look anything like us.
That’s a great thing, given our other propensity to build fortresses. When I visit my sister in Jerusalem, I can hear the doves coo from the outside ledge that’s off her bathroom window overlooking a building shaft. The birds liked to use the ledges inside the shaft for rest or shelter, but she tells me that her neighbors installed spinning deterrence rods to scare them away because of their fleas and the shit they leave on the ledges. She can’t bring herself to do this, so all these years I come to stay with her and enjoy the gentle cooing that’s the background music to her home.
How have we, humans concerned most of all with our own survival and flourishing, cultivated this need to take care of nonhumans that don’t seek our companionship?
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