Tuesday, September 01, 2020

11 Dragonflies and How Not to Take Care of Yourself

11 dragonflies crossed my path as I hiked my usual trail at Griffith Park today.

I started counting them after the first buzzed me like a Maverick fly-by, and then three swooped and darted about each other when I stopped to stretch.  Since we’re between heat waves in Los Angeles (and the science around being outdoors wearing masks has calmed some of my Coronavirus anxiety), I’d decided to try to work some of my emotions through my body via a hike on my beloved, familiar trail. 

I had woke with low-energy in the now-normal state of anxiety, a tightness of chest mixed with low-grade depression about our government, the pandemic, people unable to work and afford food and housing, the racial reckoning and the killing of another Black man last night at the hands of law enforcement.

I started with the tightness in my chest feeling like it was filling up my lungs so much that I couldn’t take a deep breath. I tried a breathing mantra, one word or phrase said as you breathe in, another word or phrase that you want to release as you breathe out. I didn’t overthink the words, but let them rise up with my breath, allowing my body / mind to tell me what I needed to take in, and what I needed to let go.

I breathe in acceptance.
I breathe out fear.

As I started to focus on my breath, I started to slow down. This particular trail is so familiar, I’ve hiked it at least 500 times since my friend Stacy introduced the trail and me in 2001, when she and I were neighbors and would hike it almost daily at sunrise before work.

But as familiar as I might think it is, it’s constantly changing, as are we all. After the three dancing dragonflies brought the number of sightings to four, I stayed on the lookout for them. I usually see butterflies or birds, but this hike, I counted 11 dragonflies, the seventh the largest I’ve ever seen, at least four inches in body and four inches of wingspan. 

As I kept my line of sight open for them, I spotted more detail in general. How the light sage color of bushes in late summer could be wiped away as I smeared the trail’s dust from the green of their leaves. How much continues to grow and even blossom in the midst of our dry season, the cacti surviving someone’s carved initials, a bright fuchsia flower casting a shadow beneath its plant.

Stopping to pull down my sweaty mask for a drink of water, I saw a twig shaped like a dragonfly by my feet. I’m curious about what I could learn from the universe, the natural world that I too often ignore, if I only slowed down and paid closer attention. Since I’ve never spotted so many dragonflies on this hike, I did a quick search online.

A dragonfly symbolizes change, transformation, adaptability, and self-realization.


On my way home, I popped in to a grocery store, and was stopped by a man in the parking lot clutching a handful of brown paper towels and a bottle of blue Windex. He nodded toward Joan, my husband's Mazda, covered in dust from the dry days of living in the basin that is Los Angeles, surrounded by our dusty hills and mountains. Can I clean your windshield, he asked? I didn’t have any cash, so I asked what I could pick him up from inside the store to pay him for his work.


As I returned to hand him his request, a small bowl of mixed fruit and a 7-Up, I said thank you, and then told him, “Take care of yourself.” He nodded.


I immediately regretted it, a rote phrase said without thought. Telling someone, anyone, but especially someone who is washing car windows to earn enough to buy food, to “take of themselves,” feels callous. It smacks of what I don’t like about American culture – the concept that we are completely independent of one another, that everyone must, and should already have the means to, pull themselves up by their bootstraps.


It is inherently, scientifically, historically not how this life works. We are interdependent – we thrive in community, caring for one another, taking up what we can when someone needs help, allowing others to step in when we need help. It is why Black Lives Matter matters, because when one suffers, we all suffer. When an entire group of people systemically suffer, we all suffer (whether we can see it or not through the cloud of privilege we exist in). When we pool our resources and create a new table where all are equal, create a new pool, that rising tide raises us all up.


Don’t take care of yourself. Take care of each other.


The path you and I are on may seem familiar, routine, but there are reminders all around us that change is constant, inevitable, and transformation is possible. Take a moment to observe, to look for symbols, to realize that what you perceive might be a form of dust obscuring reality: wipe it away and see what’s growing. Breathe in acceptance. Breathe out fear. Root into what is resilient.  



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