When I was in Bali this past summer, my new friend Jeannie had a dragonfly land on her arm. I was both excited she was experiencing an awesome and auspicious moment and a bit envious. You see, dragonflies are my talisman, or so a friend of mine declared, and I’m inclined to agree. That day in Bali I shared with Jeannie what I know of dragonflies. In Japanese culture, dragonflies symbolize courage, strength, and happiness. In Native American beliefs, the dragonfly symbolizes renewal after a time of great hardship.
My affinity with dragonflies began in my old life. Even though my old life has ended, the dragonfly has remained a constant and my connection to this darting insect has deepened. I first researched dragonfly symbolism in the last chapters of my old life, but came back to this information in my new life, just a few weeks before my trip to Bali. When I initially learned what the dragonfly symbolizes, I thought these particular details were significant and applicable to circumstances in my life thus far. Revisiting this information, I was struck by how incredibly significant and relevant the symbolism is to my life now. Courage is one of “my words,” something I am cultivating in my life. Strength is one of my “natural” resources and my strength has carried me through the challenges and hardships of my life. Happiness is one of my heart’s desires and also one of “my words.” Renewal after a time of great hardship…I am experiencing renewal every day of my new life.
I spent the first Saturday of November hiking with a group of kids in Seattle’s back yard: the Cascade Mountains. We hiked up to Dirty Harry’s Balcony. As a volunteer with Seattle Inner City Outings, I, along with my team members, take urban youth on wilderness experiences. Seattle ICO serves at risk youth from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Many of these kids live hard lives and struggle academically and nearly all of them have very limited exposure to the great outdoors. For many of these kids, these outings will be filled with firsts – first time seeing a waterfall, first time seeing, touching, and playing in the snow, first time setting up and sleeping in a tent, first time preparing a meal in the outdoors. One of the things I enjoy most about serving these kids is that I get to share with them something I love and I get to see and experience their joy as they discover the outdoors.
On this unexpectedly sunny and bright Saturday, most of the kids were bursting with excitement and energy and more than once I had to run to catch up with the front of the group. Much of the hike to the “top” it was me and four or five other kids. I was busy chatting with the kids, but at the same time I was giving my attention to these kids, I was taking in the beauty of this hike: vibrant green undergrowth, mushrooms sprouting from the ground, rippling streams alongside the trail, fallen leaves resting on the rocks of the dried creek bed that for a time was our trail. The kids were taking in their surroundings as well, commenting on the “brook” and the mushrooms, stopping for pictures, making observations.
I work with middle school kids, grades 6th, 7th, and 8th, ages 11-13. The younger kids, especially the boys, are still innocent and I cherish moments with these youngsters the most. The group of kids on this outing was an especially good group and there were several really sweet, cute kids. Most of the kids engaged with us big kids, the leaders. I had kids running up alongside me and asking me questions like, “have you ever climbed a mountain?” to which I said, “I have. I’ve climbed Mt. St. Helens. Do you know that mountain? And the first mountain I climbed was Mt. McLoughlin, when I was your age.” Early in our hike up the trail one young gal asked me, “aren’t you tired?” to which I responded, “I could do this all day long,” but then realized this was a teaching moment and added, “I ride my bike to work every day so it makes it easier to do this.” We ate our lunches on the rock balcony, a ledge that put us face to face with a snowy, rugged peak. I heard several kids exclaim, “wow, this is pretty.” As leaders we love to hear these exclamations. I was sitting close to the edge of the rock ledge and the same gal who asked me if I was tired, asked me, “aren’t you scared?” I felt pretty secure. I had gone out as far as I felt safe, but I looked down and realized it was quite a steep drop, actually kind of scary, especially for a young person who has never sat on a rock ledge before.
Not all kids in this age range are easy to interact with, are not easy to be around. Sometimes their behavior and comments can be jarring, their attitudes and behavior exasperating. We had a couple of challenging kids in our group. These “challenging” kids have been on trips with us before, so I’m starting to learn their behaviors, am starting to learn ways to respond to their words and actions. One young fellow, a very little dude, is developing an attitude, a big personality to compensate for his small stature. He can be cute and charming, but he can also be flippant. On the hike I was expressing my enthusiasm for the fresh snow on the mountain tops, saying how exciting it was going to be to see the snow, to which he said with an air of attitude, “why would you want to see that?“ I said, “because it’s pretty” and he replied, “so. it’s only gonna melt.” To this I said, “but we can see it and enjoy looking at it before it melts.” I wasn’t going to change this kid’s perspective about snow or its beauty, however fleeting, so I let the conversation fade away.
At the very end of our hike we let the kids scramble down a bank of large rocks to the sandy and rocky river bed below to have some unstructured play time. The boys immediately started throwing and heaving rocks into the water. I went out to join them, tossed a few rocks across the river myself. These boys kept saying “look at me” and “watch me” to which I very effusively said “wow” or “awesome” after they threw a rock across or into the river. The little guy with a big personality was with us. He could really throw. He could throw as high as the tree tops and over the river. At one point he said, “I’m Awesome.” I paused and noted that he said the exact words I learned to say of myself in my new life. I smiled and said, “you are awesome” and wished for him that he would continue to exercise his inner champion, no matter what hardships life gives to him.
We were the last ones out on the river bed. I was starting to head back to the group and the boy said to me, “look! it’s a dragonfly.” I looked down to where he was pointing. Resting gracefully and peacefully on the smooth, round river rocks was a lifeless dragonfly. Its body and wings were still intact; its transparent wings an intricate pattern, glistening in the sunlight, resembling the symbol of infinity. I gingerly picked up the dragonfly and held it in the palm of my hand. It was as light as a feather, lighter perhaps. Its head bobbled and I said to the boy, “look at its eyes.” I can only imagine that he was watching me as I squat on the rocks, transfixed with this dragonfly, the darting insect whose quick movements in flight catch my eye. I didn’t see this motionless dragonfly lying on the rocks right beneath my nose, but this boy did. I continued to hold the dragonfly in my hand, continued to look at the intricacies of its body and wings, was probably saying how beautiful it was, what a special moment this was for us. This young boy said to me in the sweetest, most tender way, “you could take it home with you.” I considered this briefly. The dragonfly was much too fragile, so I put it to rest where we had found it, but I did take the dragonfly home with me and this “renewing” moment we shared together in my heart.