Welcome back to Member Monday. Today it’s my pleasure to share a piece of my own.
Author’s Note: Every spring I raise dragonflies in my classroom. It’s a magnificent process to observe as these water creatures take flight and become acrobats of the air. Just this last week, the dragonfly nymphs arrived in my classroom and so it feels appropriate to start off dragonfly season by sharing this piece with you. One particular year, raising dragonflies came at a difficult time in my life and the growth of the dragonflies mirrored my own struggles. As dragonflies begin to take flight this spring maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a little bit of yourself in them as well.
The Thing About Dragonflies
By Alicia McCauley
My favorite insect is the dragonfly. Yes, they’re beautiful, but that’s not why I love them. Adult dragonflies hunt by holding their legs together like a basket and scooping insects right out of the sky, but that’s not why I love them either. Sure they’re the only insect that can fly backwards and while that’s amazing, that’s not why they have garnered my affection.
The thing about dragonflies is that they start out as nymphs. Ugly, brown nymphs with grumpy faces. They scoot around in the water and muck, shooting out their masks, catching unfortunate prey. They spend months, sometimes years, in this stage. Wallowing in the mire. Camouflaging, even covering themselves in filth. To the inattentive eye, it just looks like they’re hanging around being ugly, but what’s really happening is change. You see, the nymph is busy growing and molting. It grows and molts, grows and molts, leaving ghost skeletons lingering in the water.
Nymphs mostly molt in the dark of night, so that sometimes the changes go completely unnoticed until one day the nymph crawls out of the water and up a cattail. It clings to the cattail with hooks on its legs and then a most splendid thing happens. One last time, the exuvia cracks open and an adult dragonfly flops out of its old self. It hangs upside down, seeing the world in a whole new way.
The new dragonfly waits. Waits to fly. Waits to see the world. Waits to wheel in the wind. When blood pulses into the wings, the dragonfly takes off. At first the flights are clumsy. The dragonfly bumbles around as if it’s getting acquainted with itself for the first time. After a few test flights the dragonfly is zipping around, hovering and even jutting in reverse. The scowl of the nymph is replaced with eager eyes and a jeweled body that shimmers even in the faintest of light. It’s hard to imagine that the dragonfly feels anything short of joy as it skims the water, reveling in the knowledge that, at long last, it has become what it is meant to be.
At night when sad thoughts creep in and steal the remnants of sleep, I think about the dragonfly. When I’m covered in sorrow and I can’t escape the muck, I take heart in the fact that growth is happening. Change is taking place, even in times when I can’t see it. I have to believe that heartache will someday become an ill-fitting skin that will eventually crack open and give way. Give way to beauty. Give way to love.
I think of the nymph and the day it makes the final climb up the cattail. That must be one scary climb. In fact the nymph will often fall back into the mud several times while trying to make that climb. When I feel like all I’m doing is falling, I remember the perseverance of the nymph.I swing my legs over the bed each morning. I smile at my loved ones. I breathe in and out. I tell myself to keep trying. I know one day strength will break through sorrow, leaving the mire to exist only in my memory. I wait with anticipation for the day that I’ll soar with wings pulsing with life.
I love dragonflies for their patience. I love dragonflies for their determination, for their strength. I love dragonflies because they are tangible proof that ugliness and pain cannot contain the pursuit of joy.
During lonely nights, dragonflies sweep into my mind with their basket legs and scoop away brokenness, leaving room for hope.
And that is the thing I love the most about dragonflies.
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