Articles written by me on Self-care and Palliative Medicine
On Self-Care & Palliative Medicine

Lessons from a Dragonfly

Lessons from a Dragonfly

 

I want to introduce you to Darius, the dragonfly who suddenly appeared one clear spring morning in 2011. You’ve seen his picture on the opening page of my website. He landed effortlessly on the tip of a slender reed growing in a Koi pond that was the focal point of my small, verdant backyard. Even from my bedroom window, his brilliant orange body was striking!

 

As I gazed at his sparkling little body for the first time, I remembered lines from “Humming-bird”, a D.H. Lawrence poem hypothesizing the creation of this mesmerizing tiny bird. In characteristic, sensually rich style, he wrote:

 

Before anything had a soul,

While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,

This little bit chipped off in brilliance

And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.

 

 

It wasn’t a stretch for me to consider a similar birth for this stunning little creature! I could easily conjure an equally auspicious beginning for this exotic, primitive-appearing insect who had decided to be my neighbor.

 

Indulging my fondness for alliteration while celebrating the regal appearance of my diminutive backyard visitor, I decided his name should be Darius. Darius the Great ruled the Persian Empire at its peak from 522 to 486 BCE. As a monarch both colorful and powerful, his seemed an appropriate moniker for my new acquaintance.

 

Not one sighting, but many occurred over a period of several weeks. I found myself awaiting his arrival each day, and learned when he was most likely to appear and light with characteristic bobbing on the tip of the same reed. I snapped my photograph of him on a crisp spring morning. Amazingly, he let me bring the camera to within inches of his glistening body for the picture I captured and share. (If any entomologists are reading this article and see clear evidence that Darius is a she, please correct me)

 

Naturally, I went to Google images to research him, and discovered he is a Flame Skimmer—certainly an appropriate descriptor for his burnished splendor! I also discovered that adult dragonflies are generally on the wing for just a few days or weeks after several years of living as nymphs in fresh water. With such information, I surmised that Darius had matured in my Koi pond and was sharing his brief, brilliant adult existence with me until his approaching death.

 

Pondering Darius’ fleeting adult lifespan, I ruminated on life’s abundant, albeit finite gifts. So many days are punctuated with joy: the sight of a crescent moon fading in the early morning sky; momentary joyful connections with friends and coworkers; the melody of a song that touches heartstrings; the exuberant greeting of loving dogs who leap to the sound of the garage door opening; and shared touch with a loved one—to name only a few.

 

Quality of life is precious, and time is uncertain. Darius’ several-week visitation to my Koi pond prompted my retrieval of Edna St Vincent Millay’s touching poem, “First Fig”. It’s in the public domain, and I share it below.

 

 

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

 

 

This poem speaks succinctly and poignantly of a brief life lived passionately. Let’s strive to cherish the moments we’re allotted—to live them joyfully, creatively, and generously. As Neil Gaiman playfully advocates, “[May your days] be filled with dreams and good madness.” Perch as you are able on the tip of your individual reed, and share your miraculous, colorful self with the world.

 

 

SL Hines, MD

June 2016

 

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