When I was about 11, my family finally decided to get a swimming pool installed right in our backyard. I had taken swimming lessons in the community pool since I was maybe 6. Once you got me swimming around in the water, it took so much more than a tide or some chilly waters to get me out. Obviously, getting a pool was one of the best things that could ever possibly happen to me. There were so many new adventures to be had with this different part of our home- mermaid odysseys, breath holding competitions, and the exploration of depths that a 6-foot pool allows a child’s imagination to create. Extended family and cousins would come over to celebrate various things, we would have BBQs with a side of swim-time fun, and I easily spent 6-8 hours a day in the water that first summer. Of course, even during the formation of the pool (which to a kid in a high state of anticipation seemed like years), we saw all these changes and fun times coming. What I didn’t realize, was this pool would form a personal tradition of my own.
With all the fun and games, there was the responsibility of having this pool. My family made sure that I would sow my part just as I reaped all the rewards. And I wanted to do it. Everything that had to do with my Atlantian Utopia, I wanted to be a part of. This included learning how to test the pH of the water to see if it needed more or less chlorine, turning on the vacuum, and of course, using a long net to pick up what has fallen onto the water surface.
In the turning days between the chilly Winter and life-giving Spring, the surface of the water would go from dried leaves and plants surrendering lifelessly to the ups and downs of the miniature current, to the constant movement of bugs trying to swim and cling onto nearby flower petals from trees and plants in an attempt to remain afloat in what must have been an ocean to them. With this transition in the seasons and in the pool, there was a transition within me. With the net in hand, the goal was no longer to rid our waters of dead foliage, but to save the lives of even the smallest souls. So I would. As best I could.
There would be all different sorts of insects and bugs floating on the surface of the water, trying their best on their own to get out, get a grip on the walls, or find a little raft of petals. Obviously, as a kid, I couldn’t tell you the name of every specific type of creature since some didn’t look like the basic bugs you would see in a child’s book. Even today, some look so unfamiliar, I wouldn’t be able to tell which sting, which bite, and which my mother would never let me come near.
However, I did always know two things:
1: Every one of those bugs deserved a chance to be saved because, I figured if God put them in my path, He knew that’s what would end up happening.
And 2: Amongst the occasional spiders, bees, or wasps- there were always ladybugs. The bright red specks floating on the water, shining like rubies on a crown. I had nothing to fear from them. So I put the net down, stuck my hand in the water, and scooped them right out. By hand. Each and every one. Then I would place them together on a nearby plant in hopes they would form a new ladybug family, brought together by fate, and of course, by hand.
Through the years, my technique of literally “hand-saving” these little ladies has certainly developed into a system much more efficient. Instead of scooping out a handful of water and trying to contain it all in my palm as I walked over to a plant, slushing around and ultimately getting all wet, I would filter through the water like my fingers were the net and end up with only the ladybug in my hand. Instead of just plunging my hand in to grab them, causing a whirlpool of water next to the ladybug that would occasionally suck them down beneath the water, I would learn to introduce my hand to the surface, without even making a ripple, to then come up from beneath the ladybug. Plus it helped that as I got older, my hand got a bit bigger.
As time would go on, as the parties would become less frequent, as my imaginary odysseys became near extinct, one thing would remain year after year- those silly little ladybugs would find themselves on the water. However, what was once an efficient, systemic, chore was now suddenly a nostalgic, meditative tradition to me. Where before, I would go out back because someone told me to or because I knew there was a task to be done, I now have callings in my heart to go outside and enjoy the sun, ultimately leading my eye toward the ruby specs floating in our pool. And there has never been any hesitation in what happens next, which was what happened today.
Today, was one of the sunniest days in a while. I decided to let all my dogs loose in the backyard to play with them and enjoy the warmth together. Like always, I found myself poolside, without any intention of swimming. Simply in my street clothes, I would find myself walking in circles around our bean-shaped mini ocean, glancing at the surface of the water to find any creature in need of a net, and to spot a spotted lady in need of a hand. The second I would see a ladybug within arms reach, I would crouch down in a way that kept me from falling in, but allowed me to pull them out while a dog or two curiously ran around me, already knowing what I was up to. As I would assume the position, I couldn’t help but feel like I was mirroring a familiar frame, and I could see myself in my head of all different ages in that moment, in that spot, doing the exact same thing. I’d remove one, then two, sometimes a couple simultaneously, and place them on the same branch. Going through the motions of walking around the pool, reaching in, then gently pulling them out, it was enough to put me in a bit of a trance. Before I knew it, I no longer saw any rubies on the water. Instead of ruby red against a sea of blue, I found them amongst a living green- life upon life. When I snapped out of the trance of the tradition, I couldn’t help but snap the accompanying photo. After wishing the newly introduced ladies the best of luck, I picked up that handy-dandy net to see who else was waiting for me on the water. While doing this, I realized how much time had passed. The sun was in a slightly different spot in the sky, and I didn’t even notice that while everything was happening, my father came outside and was on the bench across the way sitting with the dogs. I imagined him witnessing everything I was doing, and thinking to himself, or saying to the dogs, something like “Well, it must be ladybug season again” because he’s well aware of my antics. When all is said and done, there is nothing left on the water but the petal-rafts and leaf-lifesavers.
There are always also those bugs, insects, and even ladybugs that I didn’t arrive in time for. Of course, it would be wonderful if, in everything I did, everyone was saved, but that is not the case, that is not real life. This brings me to respect the fragility of all life, and to appreciate what I was and am able to do in all situations for anyone.
I know it may seem silly to some to spend the time saving even the smallest bug. It may not be worth anything to others, I totally respect that. But they’re worth my time. Some may say “What could it help?” To them, I say, “What could it hurt?”. It may be something small, minuscule, tiny as a bug, but I’ll do it anyway. A bug is big enough for me. I’ll do it anyway. Year after year, lady after lady. I’ll do it anyway.
My purpose in sharing this story is not to call you to arms by sticking your hands in the water. My hope is that this story arrives in the hearts of those who could use it. I have no specific message, but your heart may if you take the moment to glance the waters and listen. If it cannot find the words, I hope this story gives your beautiful ruby-red heart, a hand.