Dragonflies come to life by bending their abdomens and cracking the skin below their head while twisting into an impossible position. They emerge head first and upside down, spending hours waiting for their new skin to harden. Only then, if they survive, do they spread their wings.
This metamorphosis usually begins in the dark of night and ends before dawn. That they survive this vulnerable stage, when they are easy prey, is astounding.
I love dragonflies. I had one tattooed on my shoulder in 2012.
According to multiple sources, dragonflies symbolize change in life and perspective, and represent emotional maturity and understanding. When I got my tattoo, it was because I was in a period of enormous life transition and I wanted to capture the moment. I was changing my perspective about myself.
Dragonflies awake and take off, shaky at the beginning, sometimes falling to the ground, but eventually flying off. The ugly shell they awoke from is left behind.
Over a year ago, I bought an extraordinary book, Dragonflies by Pieter Van Dokkum that I suddenly felt drawn to read. I curled up on the couch last Sunday while my husband watched football. I put my phone on the coffee table upside down and fought the urge to take it in my hand to engage in yet another conversation or argument. I needed a break, a quiet space in my head. I needed to learn how to conserve my energy for the inevitable fight I know we will face in the coming months and years.
I’ve never had the urge to jump out of an airplane or wake board or anything that involves the precariousness of feet not on the earth. When I was a little girl, my most common nightmares involved falling. Dreams where I fought the free fall, always awakening before my body hit the ground. Dreams where I miraculously halt the momentum and suddenly land safely on a mountain or inside my room before bolting awake.
But during the past few weeks, I’ve had the strange experience of floating above, drifting in space, sometimes while sharing drinks with friends, sitting next to my husband on the couch, or during yoga. It’s a moment where I have the sensation of both being beyond this world, holding it at arms length, while also being so emerged in the present moment, one that says, “You don’t belong here. You have important work to do.”
Dragonflies begin life submerged in water, as nymphs. Once they are born, they do not live in water, but instead survive off the bounty found there. They are considered ferocious to other insects and small fish around the water’s edge. They are carnivores.
The nymph bears little resemblance to the beautiful fairy like creature she will become. There is little to hint or suggest the extraordinary colorful or ethereal and strong wings. There is little to suggest to the untrained eye that anything beautiful and powerful could possibly come of this.
I’ve thought of that often these past few days.
These past few months, have not been beautiful. I have felt absolutely powerless as others say to me “If you are feeling frustrated, you should go to the hairdresser or buy a new pair of shoes,” or “You must not be a good Christian woman (which incidentally, I’m not. I’m a Jew)” or “Tickets are cheap, time for you to move.” I’ve listened to people tell me that words are not a big deal; we all say things we regret. I’ve been told, to quit whining, respect the new President elect, and to just get over it and give him a chance.
These comments make me shudder in disgust or pain but also simultaneously are awakening something powerful and strong and brave. These words return me to my young self, a woman who had bosses that felt comfortable grabbing her ass or stealing a kiss or older men who felt it was their right to take advantage of me. A young self that did not feel powerful or brave. A young self that felt ashamed and dirty. A young self that didn’t fight back because the social climate was one where if something bad happened, it was the woman’s fault. She was suspect.
The worst, the absolute worst, for me as a grown woman today, and the hardest thing to reconcile is the silence by the President elect’s supporters in regards to his racist and sexist rhetoric. By their seemingly blind and fervent acceptance and defense of men who believe in conversion therapy or don’t believe grabbing a woman is sexual assault or who honestly believe words do not have the power to hurt. By men who do not publicly denounce the KKK.
Words have more power than a punch. And the pain from them can linger an entire lifetime. Silence in the face of injustice hurts too. This I know.
I wonder if my floating is forecasting the casting off of an ugly shell? Is it possible that out of all this division, ugliness and anger, something beautiful and powerful is trying to be born?
I think, I hope, I must believe, yes.
I cannot see beyond the ugly shell we are all entangled in right now. I don’t know how yet, my vision is not clear. I don’t know how this gap will be bridged. But I do believe that something extraordinary has the potential to grow. I do believe that when we are done twisting out of this hard shell, when we are done hanging upside down, when we are done trying out our new wings and stop floundering on the ground, that we will begin to soar.
Because this is our only option.