• Susan Flanagan

What a dragonfly taught Me | The Kids are Alright | Dec. 4, 2012

Forty years ago I was standing on my neighbour’s lawn on Bell’s Turn when a dragonfly helicoptered its way onto my shirt sleeve. Although exquisitely beautiful, the dragonfly terrified me. And when I couldn`t shake it off my arm, I screamed. That`s when a boy with a tough reputation came over. He gently pried the dragonfly off my sleeve and then proceeded to pull off its beautiful translucent wings leaving its colourful body useless. I will never forget the mixture of relief and guilt I felt that day. Relief because the monster insect had been removed; guilt because my scream was the reason for its demise. I learned two things that day. I realized I had no reason to be afraid of the tough boy (I had heard that he stole pillow cases of candy on Hallowe’en night), and I had no reason to be afraid of dragonflies.


Someone – I don’t remember who – explained that dragonflies were the good insects, like spiders, who rid the world of bad insects, like mosquitoes, who suck our blood.


I hadn’t thought about the dragonfly whose murder I inspired in a long time. That is, until last week when my son went on his first kindergarten field trip to the Fluvarium. The memory came floating to the surface when Bob who has been a Fluvarium interpreter for decades, gave the children a blue camping tarp and instructed them to make a makeshift pond. Bob poured a bucket of water into the pool releasing dragonfly babies at the same time. Next Bob gently picked up one baby and let it crawl up his arm. The baby was sort of creepy looking, wet and black with six jointed legs. Most people present were relieved it was on Bob’s arm and not theirs.


Bob assured the children both he and the dragonfly nymph, who did not have a name, were fine. He put the nymph in a plastic cup of water and moved him underneath a Micro-Eye, a machine sort of like a microscope except you don’t look down through the top. It transferred an image of Mr. Dragonfly Nymph to a screen so we could see his body close up. I have to say it was pretty cool to see his wings growing under his exoskeleton.


Bob explained that when the baby is ready to become an adult, it climbs out of the water and the exoskeleton splits exposing the never-used wings. The dragonfly leaves its exoskeleton behind and flies away. It was pure science. I felt like we were on a Magic School Bus field trip with Miss Frizzle.


That evening as I sat with my mother and siblings in Mary Queen of Peace Church I thought about the fact that just that morning I had been celebrating the beginning of life with my youngest child`s first ever field trip and now, here I was hours later remembering the end of my father`s life with a candlelight mass.


Declan has asked me lots of questions about Heaven since his grandfather, Dee passed away.


“Does Heaven scratch your back?” Declan’s round eyes peered up at me.


“Oh yes, Heaven scratches your back.”


“Does Heaven have all your favourite things?”


“Oh yes,” I answered. “Heaven has ice cream and video games and spotted cats.”


It wasn’t until months after that I realized Declan thought Heaven was a person. Once I explained that heaven is a place, he said: “When we go up to Heaven we’ll be happy to see people who are dead, like Dee and Terry Fox, won’t we, Mommy.”


“Yes, I said, we’ll be happy to see Dee and Terry Fox.”


I was thinking of this as I sat in the pew drifting into my warm church meditative state. Truthfully, I thought I would rather stick pins in my eyes than be here. I had just returned from a trip in the wee hours of the morning and had to be on deck early for the field trip and now a mass to remember all the parishioners who had died in the past year. Good grief.


My ears perked up however when Father Frank Puddester started his sermon. It was the classic rebirth story, although I swear I’d never heard it before. My surprise lay in the coincidence of topic. Twice in one day I was brought back to a summer`s day on Bell`s Turn when a dragonfly alighted on my arm and shortly thereafter lost his life.


A young dragonfly is swimming around at the bottom of the pond, Fr. Puddester explained. He’s having great fun with his friends and family. The sun is shining through the surface and there’s lots to eat.


Every now and then the young dragonfly notices that a neighbouring dragonfly or a member of his own family goes to the surface and disappears above. This worries the dragonfly as once these other guys break on through to the other side, he never sees them again. His family assures him they are OK, and he doesn’t need to worry – that on the other side, life is different but beautiful in its own way.


Still, the dragonfly is not totally convinced and every now and then he goes up to the surface and nudges the top of the pond, but he can’t seem to cross over to see what has happened to his friends.


Until one day, the young dragonfly, older now and more mature, heads to the top of the pond and this time breaks through the surface of the water. And without knowing how it happens, he sheds his exoskeleton and opens his wings and takes flight. He is suddenly able to breathe air and, above the surface, witnesses the most amazing things. He sees all the other dragonflies who have gone before him. They are basking in the sun, well fed and happy. He frolics with them in the grass, ecstatic to know that those who have gone ahead are not dead but very much alive and happy.


I sat there stunned. In one day, an interpreter, a priest and a dragonfly had taught me more about the circle of life than a book ever could.

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