We came upon this story when preparing Abi’s funeral and the vicar read it out. We knew many people of all ages would be there and wanted a reading that everyone could understand and, hopefully, find comfort from.
The history behind this popular story is as follows. Doris Stickney and her minister husband were looking for a meaningful way to explain to neighbourhood children the death of a five-year-old friend. They needed an explanation that would satisfy not only the children but adults too. While they were preparing for the child’s memorial service the fable of the water bug that changed into a dragonfly came to mind. ‘Water Bugs and Dragonflies’ tells the story of a small colony of water bugs living happily below the surface of a quiet pond. Every so often one of them climbs up a lily stalk and disappears from sight, never to return. Those left behind are faced with the mystery of figuring out what has become of them, revealing the “miracle that makes shiny dragonflies out of ugly bugs”, this graceful story reminds us that God has given us the means of transforming our metaphorical selves into dragonflies capable of winging off contentedly into a new world. Recognizing that “the old answers will not satisfy today’s children”, Doris Stickney presents instead a simple, wise tale that illuminates a difficult reality without pretending to contain all the answers.
Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about with its friends. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily, it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.
“Look” said one of the water bugs to another. “One of our colony is climbing the lily stalk. Where do you suppose he is going?” Up, up, up it went slowly. Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends watched, and waited but it didn’t return. “That’s funny!” said one water bug to another. “Wasn’t he happy here?” asked a second water bug. “Where do you suppose he went?” wondered a third. No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together “I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he went and why.” “We promise,” they said solemnly.
One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water, and fallen on to a broad, green lily pad above. When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings. The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly. Swooping and dipping in great curves he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere.
By and by, the new dragonfly landed happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends the water bugs. There they were scurrying about, just as he had been doing some time before. Then the dragonfly remembered the promise: The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he went and why. Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water.
“I can’t return” he said in dismay “At least I tried, but I can’t keep my promise. Even if I could go back, none of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become Dragonflies too. Then they will understand what happened to me, and where I went” And the Dragonfly flew off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air.
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