Yesterday I saw a man carrying a ladybug in the palm of his hand. I'd seen him earlier, one hand held like a cup in front of his body, the other arm lightly holding it steady. As he came near me, we smiled and he slowed and I peered into the hollow of his palm and saw the orange-red shell, the black bump of a head. I said the obvious,
"You've found a ladybug."
and he said, "Yep." and walked past me and out the door.
I didn't see him after the doors closed, but one imagines him holding his offering to the open sky, or scraping it gently onto a rhododendron leaf, a blade of grass. He was not a large man, but he had the look of someone who knew his way around tools and cars, possibly blueprints or work orders. The kind of man who might crush a hapless ladybug between two thickened fingers as a kindness, or an afterthought.
My husband is the kind of man who takes care of insects by surrounding them with a white blanket of tissue and squeezing tightly before dropping them into the toilet for a final spin. (Just in case the squeezing didn't work.) This is a compromise we worked out after we moved to the country and the number of insects began to outnumber his willingness to carry them mercifully outside for my sake. I've grown quite adept at ignoring the white curtain of death. For all I know my husband just likes carrying tissue around and wadding it in his hands. Just this morning he walked out of the bedroom while we were talking and came back a second later with another of his tissues. I said, "Oh, look at that, one of those light bulbs has burnt out again," but he couldn't hear me over the flushing of the toilet.
So of course this makes me think about the man with the ladybug. In our part of the Pacific Northwest, ladybugs hibernate in our houses and buildings by the thousands. This time of year, they've mostly crawled from their corners and taken flight, but ladybugs drop regularly from ceilings and eaves, light fixtures and curtains. I find them in the sink and on the floor, and occasionally, on my self. I am tender-hearted to a fault - last month I talked to a spider in the corner of the bathroom for weeks, urging him to hide before my husband and his tissue found him (no luck) - but even I would just flick a ladybug away and hope it survived the crash-landing. I certainly wouldn't cup it in my palm and ferry it tenderly outside. So what's this man's story? The long-training of a sensitive wife? A promise to a young grandchild? Scientific research into the winter hibernation patterns of the coccinellidae family? Superstition? A Lenten vow of ahimsa? I have my favorite version already, though even if I see him again I won't ask him to confirm it. I've already fit it into the larger story I am writing for myself about the world; it involves kindness in unexpected places, and allowing ourselves to be disrupted by delight and surprise.
We all live out the stories we tell ourselves. Early in my life I heard and repeated for myself stories of being part of the chosen few, part of the last line of defense for everything good and holy. My narrative was about war and enemies and dominion and conquerors. And my life was about fear, anger, frustration, worry, and the despicable other.
Author S.D. Smith wrote on Facebook this weekend:
You lose elections long after you lose the stories that shape. Elections are a hundred years too late to save us. In other words, an election only reveals the stories we believed, loved, and allowed into our hearts to shape our affections.
I told a friend yesterday, I feel like someone pulled away the sheet and said, "Ta-da! This is the masterpiece American Christianity has been working on for the last 50 years." It's horrifying, unsettling...and not at all surprising when you think about the narrative that's gone before. But in some ways, I feel hopeful about where we are right now. Sure, we've had a glimpse of Dorian Gray's picture, but we're far from being done writing stories here. There's still time for creating narratives of community and togetherness, of building and creation and redemption and self-sacrifice. The stories our great-grandchildren will live and dream out of. I'm listening for those stories now, collecting them here and there, writing them down to share.
"I saw a man once. His shoulders were rounded, but you could see he was strong. A man who knew work, and long days. The kind who had coffee in the morning, and a narrow, plastic-bagged sandwich at lunch, chicken with a side of green beans at dinner while the news played on the television and his wife poured another glass of milk. I saw him on a Sunday. He was cradling a ladybug in his hands and carrying it carefully out to the sky..."