It was somewhat reminiscent of Kafka — you know, “The Metamorphosis.” I was at the bathroom sink about to trim my beard, when from behind the hot water knob, there appeared a stink bug, just as casually and confidently as anybody I’ve ever seen. Now unlike in the Kafka story, it remained the normal size for stink bugs, with no threat of sudden enlargement. I don’t know if it was aware of me at first, but eventually we engaged in a conversation, not vocal but mental. At least, that was my impression.
After a proper greeting of good mornings, it said to me, “I would appreciate it if you would please clean up the beard hairs in the sink when you’re done. I prefer to live in a neat environment.”
To which I responded, “You mean you live here? You’re not just passing through?”
“No, I’ve been here all winter. Haven’t you seen me around?”
“Well, certainly I’ve seen a lot of stink bugs through the winter, but you all look alike to me –– no offense intended.”
“And, by the way,” it said to me, “we don’t like to be called stink bugs. Both stink and bugs are very demeaning. We prefer our Latin name of Halyomorpha halys. But you can also refer to us as either Halyo or I, personally, find just plain Hal quite acceptable.”
“Okay. Sorry. That’s all I’ve known you by –– stink bugs that is. But just for your information, I’ve actually told people that you resemble miniature flying turtles. How do you feel about that? That puts you up the creature scale a few notches, don’t you think?”
“Frankly, it doesn’t impress me. It’s not that I have anything against turtles, of course. I haven’t seen that many of them, but as far as I can tell, they are fine, dignified creatures in their own right. But so are we. We don’t need to be compared to anything else in order to be an acceptable and decent living entity on this planet.”
Well, of course, the incredulous nature of this so-called mental conversation with a stink bug (aka Halyomorpha halys) seemed quite inconceivable. Was it really happening? Still, it seemed very definitely to be taking place because the connected train of thoughts was so vivid and flowing. What strange zone had I passed through? And to those who may have an element of doubt regarding this, consider the fact that those cosmic thinkers at the Institute for Advanced Study have proclaimed there to be 12 or more dimensions to life. I’ve never heard the explanations of what they were and how one might experience such a thing, but I’m a believer.
“So, Hal,” I said, attempting to bring an air of familiarity to our chat, “I have to confess that when I was a boy or, for that matter, even just a decade or so ago, I don’t remember the likes of you. What’s up with that? Did I miss a memo or something? Did they neglect to include you in one of those PBS nature specials?”
I detected a bit of a sigh. There was some hesitation in its response. “The truth is,” said Hal, “I have no idea. All I know is that I’m here now, although some Halyomorpha halys experts claim that our ancestors were first seen in Pennsylvania, and others go back further and point to Japan and China as our place of origin.”
Hal flew to my arm and began walking up toward my shoulder. Then I wondered how many other creatures have been trying to communicate with us human beings? Other insects? Birds? Household pets? Plants-what about plants? These thoughts were rushing through my brain at such an amazing rate that I began to feel dizzy.
Hal said, “Are you okay? You look a little pale. Maybe you should sit down.” Which I did, but all the while, sitting on the edge of the tub, I thought, how can I possibly share this experience with anyone? And Hal responded, “You can’t. But just do it anyway. Maybe there’s just one person who will believe you and that will be enough.”
The phone rang. Hal flew off my shoulder as I went into the bedroom to answer it. It was a telemarketer wanting to tell me that I had been especially chosen. I said, “You don’t know the half of it. I just a conversation in the bathroom with a Halyomorpha halys, also known as a stink bug.” She hung up. Hal had inadvertently given me a new line for when I get calls like that.
I went back into the bathroom –– no Hal. I looked everywhere –– around things, under things, behind things. No sign of him. I even went so far as to call his name aloud. No Hal.
I’ve seen stink bugs with whom I’ve tried to communicate since, but with no success. Once my wife caught me in the bathroom saying, “Hal! Are you here?”
She knocked on the door and said, “Are you alright in there? Who’s Hal?”
“Oh, I was just saying out loud, ‘How?’ Meaning, how can I get this plastic wrapper off the mouthwash bottle. That’s all.”
Jack Foster is a retired United Methodist minister, having served the Cranbury United Methodist Church for 25 years until 2009. Now living on a farm in Lambertville, he spends time writing, hiking, and playing guitar.
Foster says that he has “a great deal more respect and sensitivity to all living things that I encounter. Humans are not the only important creatures on this planet. And maybe not always the smartest either.”