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What a Beetle Taught Me About Grief and Interdependence

While I was tending to my garden the other day, I spotted a beetle on its back, a horned passalus (also known as a patent leather beetle). I set down my pruning shears, reached for one of the many leaves that the post oaks had strewn throughout the garden, and scooped up my new friend. I gingerly turned it back on its feet, watched it take a few steps toward the lantanas, then returned to pruning.


After a while, I went to check on my beetle friend only to find that it was once again stuck on its back. I turned the little bug back over, but this time it only took a couple steps before flipping upside down again. I did not understand why, but at that moment I just sat down in the dirt and cried.


After allowing myself to be present in that space, I realized that this immense tenderness within my soul was the recognition of what it feels like for the world to flip you upside down so fiercely that all you can do is stare into the sky and reach for nothing and everything. A river of sudden grief flowed into the stream of fear, ever present in the back of my mind, that I will inevitably find myself in this place again, upside down in the corner of sorrow. Yet this water, so alive with memories, poured into a deep well of healing dug by the people who have never hesitated to help me back on my feet… over… and over… and over again.


From observing this beetle’s behavior, I knew that it would die soon. After all, “doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” The wisdom of the late Mary Oliver found me in a state of gratitude for this little beetle’s “one wild and precious life.” Patent leather beetles are avid recyclers, contributing to the decomposition of wood. Undertakers of the earth, clad in leather jackets. I wondered if the leaf that I used to carry this beetle grew from a tree whose fallen branches had once nourished its wild and precious life. We are such complex, interdependent beings of divine creation.


In some ways, this is a eulogy for the beetle I met in the garden that day. This one wild and precious life who helped me remember that the deep well of healing from which I nourish my soul will always be fed by a river of grief. However, one need only follow the river to find that its very source is our capacity to love. Wendy Farley writes in her book Beguiled by Beauty, that “when we encounter the suffering… of sacred, beautiful beings, our heart naturally opens in sadness, dismay, lament, compassion, protection, resistance, and healing… having seen and recognized this, we can no longer be unmoved or indifferent.”


Amen.

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