Me and My Dragonfly (Totem)
Several years ago, on a company camping trip, several of us had gathered around a picnic table just killing time until everyone arrived. Barb, our resident Wiccan, was shuffling a deck of medicine cards and offering to read them for us. Of course I would volunteer. I'm one of those people that will push the Kung Pao chicken to the side in order to read my Chinese astrological sign on the paper placemat. I have several books on general astrology and have indulged on an amateur level in reading planetary charts. I'd never heard of medicine cards though. The lure of discovering my very own totem animal was just too much of a temptation to resist.
Similar to the dealing of tarot, a person selects various cards from the deck and they are laid out in significant patterns. One by one, Barb introduced each card, turned it over and explained their meaning. "This one is special," she began when she came to the final card, "it represents your dream guide." Before she could flip it over, however, my hand shot out and covered hers, preventing her from turning it. I wasn't sure why I'd done that. Barb paused, looking at me questioningly...and with a puzzled frown I blurted out an explanation.
Remember in "The Sixth Sense" when Haley Joel Osment confessed to seeing dead people? In the same creepy kinda whisper I simply said, "I dream of dragonflies."
Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean to say I was actually aware of their significance. It had become a personal joke to me that whenever my life was about to take a serious turn or when something momentous was about to occur...a dragonfly would appear in either a dream or in reality. They were bugs...cool bugs...but still pretty much just bugs.
I lifted my hand and nodded to Barb that she should continue. Keeping an eye on me, she turned over the final card.
Yes, it was the dragonfly.
"You know," Barb muttered, "sometimes you really creep me the fuck out, Laurie." With satisfaction, I noticed that the skin on her arms was as goose-pimpled as mine was.
Last week, while staying at my sister's house, I would often wander outside to take a breather from the stress of funeral arrangements. Toni and her husband have turned their backyard into a wonderful natural oasis. While green grass can be found in Arizona, it cannot be compared to the damp lush carpet that grows in New Hampshire. I slipped out of my shoes and sunk my bare feet into its welcoming coolness, meandered past the gardens to admire the flowers and strayed down the path that led into the inviting shadowed cathedral of pine trees that dominate the back part of their property. Everywhere there were dragonflies, flitting through the air, the sun catching their wings and reflecting back prisms of light. My sister's husband, Dennis, said that they were abundant because of the rainy summer. I was just grateful for their companionship as I wrestled with my current dilemma.
One of the things I wanted to do for my mother was give her a proper eulogy. Being the writer in the family, my siblings all turned to me to not only write it...but to deliver it. The burden of my task was enormous and it weighed on my mind heavily every minute of every day. From the moment I arrived at the airport to begin my journey eastward, I began casting about for sources of inspiration. None met with my approval...they didn't feel right. I grilled my siblings for memories...favorite moments in Mom History...and while they were all good...they still didn't have that cohesion I was looking for. The closer the funeral loomed, the more sleep I lost over it. I owed it to my mother to make it the best thing I had ever written...she deserved nothing less.
By Wednesday night, I was close to panic. The funeral was Friday morning...if I didn't write it on Thursday...then I would fail my mother. I did the only thing I knew to do...I prayed. "Mom," I whispered, "I need your help. Can you...perhaps give me a hint? I promise, I'll pay attention...I'll be ready for your answer...just...could you point me in the right direction?"
Thursday morning arrived and I awoke no closer to an answer than I had been upon falling asleep. The inside of my eyelids felt like sand paper as I poured myself a cup of coffee and wandered out onto the back deck to ease myself into consciousness and find the will to start another day. My siblings and I decided to divide and conquer. Two would go to the florist, two would go to monastery to make a donation in my mother's name and I would stay behind to write the eulogy without fear of interruption. Neither my brother nor sisters wanted to bother a creative genius at work. Discouraged, I was close to tears...I had nothing.
The door opened quietly and my older sister shuffled out with her own mug of steaming coffee. We stood quietly side by side. I knew she was wrestling with her own demons. Earlier in the week Michele had confessed that she felt unnecessary...that her contribution to events was so small as to make her question her very presence. Of course, we tried to reassure her that she was very much needed...but I could tell that doubt still lingered.
"You remember," she began softly, "Mom's crazy recipes? You know the ones I mean...where she didn't really have a measurement for a particular ingredient? It was always...'until it looks right?'"
I smiled thinking about it.
"Yeah," I said, "I do..."
"I don't know why I just thought of that," she added thoughtfully, taking another sip of her coffee.
I turned to her, to give her a comforting hug...and was frozen in my tracks.
Sitting on my sister's shoulder, just out of her peripheral vision was a dragonfly. Before I could point, before I could even utter a word, it lifted up and flew away...but it didn't matter. I had my answer.
"Would you mind very much if I steal that idea for Mom's eulogy?"
Michele gave me a puzzled look after shaking the rather dazed expression from her face.
"It's perfect...no...it's better than perfect," I said excitedly, "thank you...oh thank you."
I then squeezed her half to death and bounced off to grab the laptop, barely hearing her as she said, "Of course you can."
And I wrote...
My brother in law, Dennis, gently steered people away from me and kept me supplied with cup after cup of coffee. I sat outside beneath the shade of an umbrella, chain smoking like a addict, focused on the words before me. My sister's words stayed with me throughout that day...and I understood that my mother's recipe measurements weren't simply directions for cookies, cakes and pies...it was a recipe for life...and a recipe for writing as well. Slowly I added the ingredients...a pinch of this, a dash of that...and under my fingertips it began to take form. I knew when it was done because it felt right...
Still I held my breath as my sisters read the eulogy. When I saw a tear slowly slide down a cheek, followed by a surprised laugh and a smile...I knew I'd hit my mark. Only then did I finally exhale...
Now all I had to worry about was reading it.
It wasn't easy. I took a deep breath...smiled at Michele and introduced the eulogy by thanking her for making it possible. Not only had I received my message...the answer of what to write...but my mother had also managed to deliver it via the one person that needed to know just how very necessary she was. As for the actual reading of the eulogy...I managed to keep my emotions in check and only choked twice. When it was over, I kept my head down and quietly took my seat. Michele wrapped her arm around me and hugged me close...but I couldn't look up...I was too emotionally raw to look into anyone's eyes to see how it had been accepted.
To my immense pleasure, people came over after the service to tell me how moved they had been, quoting parts of the eulogy that had been especially meaningful to them. Listening to them, the burden that I had been carrying for days lifted from my shoulders and a peaceful feeling took its place. I hadn't disappointed my mother...and that was what mattered most.
On Saturday morning, after having slept well for the first time in days, I was alone on the back deck with my habitual cup of coffee. To my amusement, a dragonfly landed beside me on the porch railing. Feeling like a complete idiot, I smiled at it and bent over until we were at eye level with each other. "Thank you," I said. The dragonfly cocked its head to the side as it watched me. "Great," I muttered under my breath, "I'm outside having a conversation with a bug." To the dragonfly, I said, "Tell my Mom, that I miss her okay...and that I hope we did everything right." To my surprise, the dragonfly bobbed its head and I had to look around. Where were my sisters when I needed them? They simply had to see this. At the very least...just to confirm that I wasn't imagining this.
"Okay...so you aren't just an ordinary bug," I continued hoping that perhaps if I prolonged this conversation, Michele might step out onto the deck. "I swear to god though...if you start talking...I'll be forced to squash you. Understand?"
And then...I tentatively put my finger up to the dragonfly...the way you would with a bird...holding my breath...thinking for sure it would fly away...
Instead, it stepped onto my finger.
We stood looking at each other...me and this bug. Part of me was saying...this is not normal bug behavior...and part was saying...it has to be normal bug behavior because here I am standing outside with a coffee mug in one hand and a dragonfly perched on the finger of the other. But then again...
I wanted to prolong this magical moment...at least until a witness arrived...but I was pretty sure that I was treading a fine line between sanity and the nearest psychiatric facility. Instead I gave the dragonfly one last smile and lifted my right hand up into the air...watching as it flew off.
I am Laurie...a Cancerian, born in the year of the Rabbit. My totem is the dragonfly...and I consider myself privileged to be in its care.