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Lizards kiss the ground to pray

When we were children, my mother would tell us to be careful with the house lizards that we saw at home. They were good creatures, she would say, and at six in the evening they would come down from heaven to humbly kiss the ground and pray to God.

I heard this story more than once because it was told to me and my older brother, and it would be told to the brother that came after me and then to the sister that came after all of us. The house lizard, with its fleshy body and skin so thin you could see its bones and pulsing organs; the house lizard, with its self-amputating, regenerating, tail; the house lizard, the holiest of God's animals, so good they have a place in heaven.

When I was younger, I would often worry, "Does God want me to also kiss the ground at six o'clock to show my love?" Then, instead of shamefully saying "Yuck," I would counter, "But God made it easy for the lizards. Their head is so close to the ground." And so for a time, the lizard was a reminder of what this guilty Catholic school girl would not do for God--and yet it was also a symbol of the long list of things I was grateful others would do so I wouldn't have to.

I could never touch a lizard--I imagine the sensation to be like holding a writhing strip of detached skin--but growing up I did keep more than a few lizard eggs we found all over the house. I watched a couple of them hatch into healthy baby lizards, but I also saw many premature hatchlings crawl out of slimy, bloody cracked eggs that were accidentally dropped.

I was sorry every time I saw a lizard, especially one too young to come out of its egg, die. I was even more sorry if I had caused it, though accidentally, like when I squished one with a door or forgot to check if one was trapped in flypaper. It felt like I had deprived God of yet another worshipper--one of, if not the, best. 

When I was a little bit older, I read about nocturnal animals and how lizards crawl out after sunset to eat insects. I tried to connect this with what I had been told as a child, thinking, "So they wake up, kiss the ground in prayer, and then go eat." But also, "Can they be any more good? They kiss the ground, they pray, and they eat mosquitoes!"

(And also, my eternal conundrum: Are animals really good if they kill other animals?)

Now I know with the certainty of an adult that my mother's story is just that, a story. And yet, when I saw a lizard trapped in flypaper fairly recently, I could have sworn God asked me to save it. Of course, later, when I was in my fourth hour of gently prying another lizard finger off the flypaper glue that a quick Internet search told me to wet with baby oil, I wondered if I had heard wrong and my messianic complex was again making me interfere with the natural order of things. 

I would like to believe the lizard heard me, though, when I begged it, over and over again, to stop writhing and not drop its tail or else I might make the sorry mistake of killing it as I recoil in disgust.

When finally it was free, it stood looking at me for a moment, and then quickly crawled off into the sunrise. I saw it again a few days later--I recognized it because there were still smudges of golden glue on its skin. I am not sure if I saved it, really, because I left it a bit sticky, but at least I know I gave it extra time (to kiss the ground and pray to God).

I am remembering all these tonight because the past week, there has been a baby lizard, already regrowing a tail, crawling on my bedroom floor from six o'clock onwards. It has kept me from sweeping the floor or using the vacuum cleaner, because, yes, I still do not want to deprive God of yet another worshipper, but also, having already spent five hours of my lifetime hunched over the kitchen sink, painstakingly removing a reptile with twenty fingers I could barely see and easily break with the smallest wrong move from a glue so sticky it is a trap, I do not want to have to save another one.

Now I think I am being terrorized by this baby lizard as much as I am terrorizing myself with stories I have been told and stories I have been telling. I mean, I know better, but there's the lizard, and I can't clean my room for days now because it's praying before eating. 

Bon appetit. Pray for me.


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