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Jul  2015 28
When Fear Overwhelms Understanding

During November and December, my family and I lived in Antigua, Guatemala. In the laundry room of our casa, I tried to kill something because it looked like a threat. I thought I was killing a massive spider. But in my fear and ignorance, I may have killed a harmless creature.

I fear spiders.

One of my earliest memories is when I was about three years old, waiting in my friend’s backyard for her to come out to play. I looked at my arm and freaked because a daddy longlegs was hitching a ride.

Jump forward 56 years. Before leaving Tulsa for Guatemala, I was doing yard work. I turned over a wooden box in the yard to discover a HUGE black widow spider underneath. Later that day, I discovered several brown recluses in the same area.

Yikes! Threatening creatures that could do serious damage to me or my family. Within a day or two after seeing the poisonous spiders in my yard, I was bitten in three places by a small spider that must have hidden in my shirt. So, my arachnophobia was well-primed when I met “the creature.”'AmblypygiDorsal' by Greg Hume - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AmblypygiDorsal.jpg#/media/File:AmblypygiDorsal.jpg

The laundry area in the Guatemala casa is a structure separated from the main house by a small patio. Outside the laundry house on the other side are rain forest plants that were cut back when these casas were built.

Early one night I went out to retrieve laundry I placed in the machines during in the day. I opened the laundry room door, flipped on the light, and there it was.

On the wall above the washing machine was the most massive bug I’d ever seen outside a zoo. About four inches in diameter, flat, huge whipping antenna, a segmented body, large pincers in the front. I freaked.

I ran into the house and opened the doors under the kitchen sink and grabbed bug killer. I hurried back into the laundry room and sprayed the creature. Nothing happened. The “spider” hardly moved. I sprayed again, then again, then again. The “spider” headed up the wall, transitioned to the ceiling, and started crawling my way.

I took a long-handled tool with a stiff brush at the end and tried to squish the creature. It did not squish but fell from the ceiling behind the washer. That was my cue to LEAVE and shut the door.

After relating the whole story to Cheri and Eliana, I got on the internet and looked up “spiders in Guatemala.” An image search quickly brought up a picture of what I had just encountered. And I found I had tried—and maybe successfully—killed a harmless creature.

The creature in the picture, and that was on the wall, was an Amblypygid, otherwise known as a whip spider or tailless scorpion. It is not a spider. It has no venom. It cannot harm a human being.

My lizard brain, primed by recent spider encounters and conditioned by a lifelong fear of spiders, impeded my understanding. I reacted in fear, misjudged the situation, and lashed out at something I did not understand. Just as happens so often in the world I share with other humans; prejudice and fear inhibit understanding, and I misbehave.

It seems that in today’s world where we are always encountering “The Other,” there is a lot of reacting without understanding going on. Think: Head scarf. Turban. Hoodie. Tattoo. Piercing. Skin color. Sexual orientation. Theological position.

What happened to the whip spider after it fell behind the washing machine? I looked the following day but could not find it. Despite my best effort the night before to kill it, today I hope it lived.

Photo: "AmblypygiDorsal" by Greg Hume - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AmblypygiDorsal.jpg#/media/File:AmblypygiDorsal.jpg

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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