The ladybird was swimming desperately as I scooped it out, feeling that little rush of warmth at having rescued the tiny creature from a watery death. It wasn’t happy, but I placed it on the side of the sink to dry out while I soaked. I would take it outside when I was clad in something more decorous than a towel.
From my supine position in the steam, I could see it begin to move, flexing its legs and shifting on the slippery surface; a tiny splash of colour against the porcelain. I like ladybirds. As a child, they always fascinated me and I was almost offended when I read that they could bite. Surely… they wouldn’t?
They are called ladybirds, apparently, for the Virgin Mary, who was often shown cloaked in red in the early paintings. The seven spots of one of the commonest types were said to symbolise her joys and her sorrows. There is an older association, with the Norse goddess, Freya too; it is said the ladybird came to earth riding a bolt of lightning There is a lot of old lore about them… as predictors of weather, for instance. It would rain if one fell into your hand. It is true they do not fly when the world is chilled.
This one, however, was recovering nicely in the warmth of the bathroom. As I dried and dressed I thought that perhaps I would only need to open the window for it shortly for it to ‘fly away home’… I watched it flex the fragile wings, glad to see it unfurl them. A short flight and it landed in the bowl of the sink as I was running the tap… and slid straight down the plughole, carried by the force of water into oblivion. There was nothing I could do, the little creature was gone.
I waited a while, hoping to see it re-emerge in the manner of the spiders that hide there when threatened. Nothing. There would be no happy ending for this harbinger of good fortune. I was, I admit, quite upset by the incident, having saved it from drowning just minutes before, only to have assisted its passing with the running water.
I couldn’t help but think about it though. It is said in many cultures that the number of our days is predetermined. If it was the ladybird’s time, then perhaps there really was nothing I could have done. Perhaps it only mattered that I had cared enough to try.
I thought of the verses from Ecclesiastes, relevant regardless of faith:
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
I am not a believer in strict predestination, though I do subscribe to the belief that we choose the broader outlines of our lives in order to provide us with the opportunities we need that we may learn and grow; a vessel into which the wine of life is poured. I am a firm believer in the gift of free will and the ability to shape our lives and futures within a greater Perfection. I do, however, feel that there is ‘a season and a time to every purpose’.
There is an intuitive understanding of when the time is ‘right’ that most of us feel; a tide of possibility that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives, and while some things carry an air of obstinate inevitability, others open before us as new landscapes full of adventure. At these moments we have a choice, whether we retreat to safe familiarity, or move forwards, through the open door into the unknown. At such times we cannot know whether a dragon or a pot of gold awaits us, only whether or not we have the courage to find out.
Yet there are other times when we know we simply need to be still, to find an oasis of calm within ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of a world that moves too fast around us. A place to breathe and simply be… right here, right now.
And then there are the times when events move beyond our control and we can do nothing to change them. Yet even here we do have choices… we can ride that ever-flowing wave of time and tide and face inevitability in a manner of our choosing. And we can choose to learn and grow, even from the smallest event. In this way, even the seeming vagaries of fate are at the mercy of a reality altered by will. When the ladybird goes down the plughole, in spite of all your efforts, you have a choice… will you simply shrug and move on, grieve and salute the passing of a life, however small… and will you have learned to ensure that the plug is secure next time?