Ruminations: Centipede

The previous owners of our house had dogs. And if you live in a house with a dog, you know that dog hair gets everywhere. In the process of moving in, we stirred up clumps of dog hair from all sorts of hidden corners. Disposing of the dog hair became just part of what we did to settle in.

So I was not surprised one morning to walk downstairs and see a clump of dog hair clinging to the wall at the base of our stairs. What surprised me was that when I attempted to pluck it off the wall and throw it away, the clump of dog hair skittered away from me!

It was not dog hair, as it turns out. It was a little beastie known as a house centipede. I had never seen a house centipede. It looked kind of scary—the way unfamiliar things often look. My first thought was how to get rid of it.

But I hesitated. I allowed curiosity to prevail. I decided to do a little research. Turns out, house centipedes can be pretty helpful to have around. They eat other bugs that are much less pleasant. Their little spines aren’t sharp enough to puncture human skin unless you’re really trying, and they typically run away from human beings in their space. Plus, they live a long time—five or six years supposedly!

When we encounter people who seem unfamiliar in some way—whether it’s their culture or their beliefs or something else about them—we can feel a spike of anxiety. People can seem a lot scarier than centipedes sometimes. If we let that fear shape how we interact with people, we might have a hard time accepting other folx. When we see people as a threat, it’s not easy to connect with them.

When we can engage our sense of curiosity, though, we open ourselves up to learning something unexpected. We might discover something really amazing about a person. We might even figure out that the things that make us different aren’t really scary at all.

I know, this is the part where I’m supposed to say that people are all the same, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think it’s important for us to see that people’s differences sometimes mean we have completely different experiences of life. We can’t really understand that if we assume that everyone is just like us.

But we also don’t have to be scared of those differences. To cultivate authentic relationships, we might need to engage our curiosity and embrace that we can be in meaningful relationship with people who have had very different experiences of life. Maybe we can even realize that, to them, we might look pretty scary too.

I don’t know how I look to that house centipede. (I think we’re calling it Charlie.) I might look pretty terrifying. But I’m glad I was able to get beyond my initial reaction. Now on the rare occasion when I catch sight of Charlie, I’m reminded of how I want to be curious in a lot of other relationships too.

Rev. Randy Partain