I never fancied myself a mystic. Or particularly spiritual. I was raised Catholic; so, my religious world-view was initially shaped by that. But I recall, even as a child, sort of scratching my head at some of the tenets of my religion. Like, transubstantiation. So, the Church was telling me, when the bell rings during Communion, that the wafers and the wine are literally changed into the flesh and blood of Christ. And then we eat and drink it? Wait, what? This isn't just symbolic; but literal? But isn't that cannibalism? Isn't cannibalism a sin? And where does this information come from? It couldn't be...made up...could it?
But neither am I an atheist. I believe there is something going on. That is to say; I don't think that "this" is all there is.
Why? Well, let me tell you about the three dragonflies...
In the late 80's, a good friend of mine died in a car wreck. She hadn't even made it to her 20's. Her name was Kelly. She was in a pick-up truck and the guy driving (I don't know if alcohol was involved) swerved into a phone pole. The passenger side hit the pole and Kelly must've hit her head in just such a way as to instantly take her life. He walked away without a scratch. Needless to say, the next couple of days were a nightmare. At her funeral mass, the priest spoke and told the story of the dragonfly. How it starts as little more than a dot at the bottom of a pond, swims towards the light, and emerges from the water as the spectacular insect that it is. I never forgot that sermon; probably more so because when we arrived at the cemetery and she was being buried, I started to notice dragonflies.
The more I noticed, the more there were. Dozens of them, swirling and darting over the casket, the grave. It was one of those two by four moments. When the "whatever's out there" hits you upside the head with a two by four. I mean, we were no where near a body of water, where these bugs tend hang out.
In my first novel, I transformed this event into one of the plotlines. An excerpt:
Larry stood next to the grave and began to speak. In English.
“I felt like I had to tell this story and I really don’t know why,” he said, glancing down at the grave. He suddenly got nervous and began shifting from foot to foot. “I remember once Akiva coming to stay with us for a week when he was a little kid. He must’ve been seven or eight…which would’ve made me about nineteen or twenty…not that it matters. Anyways, Kiva was always a pretty unusual kid. He was really into studying insects at the time and I remember he had this little plastic bug zoo and a net and he was always running around catching things and putting them in there. And everything he caught and put in there didn’t last very long which he couldn’t understand. What he really wanted was a butterfly and that whole time there wasn’t a single butterfly but he kept trying to catch one. So one day he comes in the house and shows me his bug zoo and inside it there was a dragonfly. Now, how he caught a dragonfly is anyone’s guess ‘cuz those things are fast; but he did and it was sitting inside this plastic case. Its wings were almost touching the sides, so it couldn’t fly if it wanted to, so it just sat there. He asked me if I thought it was neat, and I had to admit it was pretty neat. It was wicked cool. So he said he was going to keep it as a pet. He asked me if I thought that was a good idea.
I didn’t want to rain on his parade, so I said, ‘Why don’t you ask the dragonfly if he thinks it’s a good idea?’ He looked at the dragonfly, which was just sitting there on the floor of the cage, grounded, and he asked it. We both looked really close at the dragonfly. I don’t know if a bug can look sad…but this bug looked really sad. Kiva looked at me. ‘But do you know how long it took me to catch him?’ he said. I nodded. ‘But Kiva,’ I said, ‘Think about it…this bug started out as a little worm at the bottom of a pond and then crawled up to the light and then went through an entire process where it changed from a formless slug to this beautiful thing with four-inch wings and metallic blue skin and flying skills so crazy that it’s the fastest bug on the planet. I tapped the top of the box. ‘Try to see the world through his eyes’ I said to him. ‘Do you really think this is what he wants? Do you really think it’s what God wants?’”
Larry cleared his throat. “So, we went out to the backyard and we put the box on the picnic table and Kiva took the lid off of it. The dragonfly climbed up a stalk of grass that was in there and then he…I swear…he looked right at us like he was thankful and then he flew off. Flew off straight into the sun until he disappeared. We watched and then Kiva turned to me and said, ‘You were right Larry. It was what God wanted.’”
Actually, the dragonfly motif closed the novel:
Just as I was about to stand, a dragonfly alighted on the tombstone. It was looking at me. In fact, watching me. I raised a finger and moved it back and forth in front of the insect. It followed the movement with its head. I slowly reached out with my finger to see if it would, by some chance, perch there. He tilted his head the other way, in what I can only describe as an attitude of quizzicality. Then he raised his wings and lowered them in several staccato bursts. I reached out again; and with a blue-green flash he flew into the late August sunshine.
I mean, I've always loved dragonflies (feared them a bit as a child, as they were supposed to sew your lips together (where did that come from?). And I was always and still am fascinated that dragonflies were once the size of sea-gulls.
Actually, I'm rather glad they've downsized. Science still isn't really sure why they were so big.
So, fast forward to five or so years ago. We park our cars in a little cul de sac at the end of our driveway in front of the garage. One of the cars is black and very reflective. One day, some dragonflies showed up. Three of them. They would hang out near the cars and do dragonfly stuff. Again, nowhere near a body of water. My thought was that perhaps they mistook the shiny surface of the black car as a pond or stream. And every summer they'd show up again. Usually three of them. Sometime two; but at least one. And they were always the same species: The Blue Dasher or pachydiplax longipennis (that's what she said!).
A few years ago, as I was in the driveway and the trio were flitting about, I wondered if I could get one to land on my finger, like in the close of the book. I put out both arms with my index finger extended. They would come near, hover and observe. I mean, you could watch them watching, looking. Their little heads can turn! So, I kept doing this and then one day, one of them landed on my finger tip. It stayed a few seconds and then flew off. Then it would return and stay a little longer. I mean, I don't know if it was one or all of them: they're identical. But the more I did it, the quicker they'd land and the longer they'd stay.
Then, they started sitting for like, minutes at a time. I'd put my finger right up to my face and talk to them and they'd sit there and listen. It reached a point where they'd let me touch their wings. In fact, two have shown up this summer and within a half hour I had one on my finger and was talking to it. I had to shake my finger to get it to fly off.
What's in it for them? For the life of me, I can't figure it out. They're actually putting themselves in danger. I could easily clamp my hand over one of them and destroy it (not that I ever would; but I could). Certainly they must know that; I mean, as much as an insect can "know" something. Or is that human ego talking. Why do I assume a dragonfly knows little if anything other than it's instincts. But you would think instinct would keep it from putting itself in such unnecessary danger. Right?
Or maybe it knows more than any human. Me. Stormy Daniels. Einstein. Prince Harry. Marie Curie. I mean, they've managed to be here for MILLIONS of years. We've only been here a few thousand.
Maybe he's trying to tell me something.
There's a plethora of myth surrounding these creatures. They're messengers from the other realm. They are departed love ones coming to visit you...
Now that's a lovely thought.
The top picture is one of them on yours truly's finger.