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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

The Ladybug Takes Flight

Two years ago, I marched in my graduation regalia and knew it would be my last time to sit with the faculty at Convocation. The sun was hot, but the breeze tempered the heat as I sat in the row with my colleagues. I considered my healing during the past year and thought it was complete. Yet, as I contemplated my unknown future, there was a concern for the unresolved feelings deep inside.

Then, as the students began the tradition of passing the torch from one to another, I glanced down at my feet and saw a ladybug struggling up a blade of grass. I marveled at how red she appeared against the grass and wondered why she did not take flight as she began to flutter her wings. I willed her to fly, but she would not. Then suddenly, she fell from her perch and disappeared in the thick grass below her. No! I watched, expecting her to emerge, but she did not. I thought about the trampling feet that would soon put her in danger. I longed to sit in the grass and find her, but I was trapped in my status and regalia. Sitting on the grass searching for a ladybug would be hard to explain. I was helpless.

As the proceedings ended, I saw feet trampling the grass where the ladybug was hiding. There were people greeting me, students I needed to congratulate, and duties to perform. By the time I was free, the chairs had been removed and I had no idea where I had been sitting. I simply had to leave her in God’s hands. I hoped she had survived beneath the thick cover of grass.

I gathered my belongings and walked to my car—which looked astonishingly like a ladybug, I thought about the first time I had rescued a helpless ladybug. It had been more than ten years earlier. I was in a pool, floating on a raft when I saw a bright red speck land beside me. I fished her out of the water and she looked grateful. I held her as she tried to dry her wings and take flight.

Time crept by and I grew impatient. “Fly!” I said, but she paid no mind to the loud voice above her. Then God spoke. “If you make her fly too soon, she will fall back in the water and drown.” Yes, I had to be patient—with the ladybug, with those who were healing, with my students, and with myself.

The following day I marched in my final graduation and then packed my tam carefully in a box. The life I had created for myself was over and it was time to step into an unknown future. I was thankful for my healing and I thought I was ready to fly. It felt like the ladybug perched on the top of that blade of grass. Why hadn’t she flown? It was troubling that she had fallen back into the grass. I sensed I might also be precariously perched. There just wasn’t time to think about it. I had too much to do and many places to go. I refused to think about it—until the day I had no choice.

The day that I fell back into therapy, I understood how the small ladybug felt. She had been so close to flying; but something was very wrong and she was not ready. Another long and difficult year would go by while I vanished from sight, just as the ladybug had that day. I had left her in God’s care and trusted she would fly. I had to do the same for myself.

A year later, I once again sat watching the graduates. This time my reflection was about the small child inside of me who had held indescribable pain. Her pain had many parts and each part required healing. Slowly, her desperate cries for help quieted and I was now in a renewed struggle to return to life. I wanted to fly but sensed I still wasn’t quite ready.

Sitting next to my husband, Scott, I watched the Convocation traditions from a distance. It was a beautiful clear day and in the distance a snow-covered Pikes Peak stood in stark contrast to the blue sky and green trees. This time, I was not in the regalia-clad row of faculty. I was free to move and considered that it would even be possible to rescue a ladybug. I looked at the faculty all pinned in their places baking in the sun and felt good about my choice. I felt free.

Scott’s voice jarred me out of my thoughts.

“Look. It is a ladybug.”

Yes, it was. It had landed on his leg. I put my finger in front of her and observed in delight as she climbed up. I raised my hand into the air and watched as she stretched her wings and took off into the blue sky.

I had made the right choice to not march. Scott knew it. I knew it. I wasn’t supposed to watch ladybugs struggle to fly as I sat pinned to my chair under the trappings of a life that was no longer mine. I chose to be free and sit with Scott where the ladybug could land and we could watch her fly.

It is now another year later and graduation is approaching once again. I understand there were stages to healing. I had to climb up that blade of grass many times before I could actually fly. It felt like healing had been accomplished every time I climbed up to that perch—it had, there were just more layers. This cycle often felt like failure, but it wasn’t. It was growth. What felt like healing a year ago doesn’t compare to what healing feels like today. This will probably be true again in another year.

Yesterday, just in time for another graduation, the ladybug appeared again. This time, the ladybug was in a symbolic form that I could keep with me as a reminder of my journey. Standing at a display of Magnabilities jewelry, my eyes focused on a small red ladybug insert. I almost squealed in delight and instantly took possession of the treasure. A few weeks earlier I stopped hiding under the cover of grass and climbed up to the top of a blade of grass to test my wings. For several weeks, while sitting perched atop the blade of grass, I tested my wings again and again until I understood it was time to fly. This was the culminating moment in my two-day maiden flight in which I had felt an unprecedented level of wholeness while crisscrossing Denver in my car that yes, looked very much like a ladybug.

As I drove back home, the symbolic ladybug looked up at me from her perch in my newly acquired ‘Journey Bracelet.’ She seemed to be smiling at me as I flew down the highway. Ladybugs and I had a long history. I smiled back at her and said, “Now it was time for us to give others hope for healing.”

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