My Secret Ladybug
There it was. Just crawling around, doing what ladybugs do. But it was so unusual to see it there, right there, that I couldn’t help but smile. Really big, because it was so unexpected.
I was in the produce section of the grocery store. Doing my shopping. Looking at what was available and making selections based on what I expected to eat for dinner for the next couple of weeks. I was trying to gauge what we needed, consulting my list, again and again to make sure I got everything. I was selecting some of this and a few bags of that and putting it all into my grocery cart.
These days I don’t go grocery shopping weekly or even every other week. It can be three weeks or more before I go back to the store even though the store is only a couple of miles from where I live. So, when I go, it is an organized and premeditated experience, because we are still living in a pandemic. So, a trip to the grocery store includes a mask, gloves, and a list of everything I need to acquire in this outing. And, it’s a bit stressful. Even if living in this time in history is becoming more “normal”, there isn’t the excitement I used to have about going to the grocery store. It used to be something I enjoyed, mostly, for the anticipation of all the yummy things I could then eat.
But grocery shopping these days is not like that. It’s filled with purpose, filled with severity and seriousness. It’s filled with vigilance, working quickly and effectively on my plan to get the things I need, substituting when things are out of stock, or going without when whole sections are bare. I work each part of the store, double checking my list before moving to the next area.
Then, in the middle of all this pressure, in the middle of all this doing and making decisions, I saw the ladybug, right there. It was not concerned about my concerns, it was not worried about catching a virus, it was not worried about what was for dinner, it was just hanging out, being a ladybug.
I have to tell you, I think magical things happen in our lives all the time, and this ladybug, was my magical grocery store experience. It was magical because it was out of the routine, a bright red color in all the grayness and seriousness of the situation. It was magical because it was surprising and connecting, right when I could use the reminder that these things happen. All the time. But especially when I notice them.
The actual ladybug wasn’t really doing much extraordinary. It was crawling around on the asparagus, like it was just a normal Tuesday. It was acting like this was exactly what it should be doing.
The unusual part, for me anyway, was that it was inside a grocery store. Not outside on the asparagus, but inside a building. On asparagus that people were going to go home and cook for dinner. How did this ladybug get here?
As soon as I saw it I not only smiled, I looked around the whole produce section to see if there was anyone, anyone at all, anyone nearby, or even in the vicinity that I could show my discovery to. And there wasn’t a single person around me. And this made me sad, for just a moment because it seems like so much of what I do is in isolation these days, isolation from people other than my immediate family. It seemed ironic that the magic of the ladybug was also a solo experience. Maybe that is just how it was going to be.
But then came the question. What should I do? I’m standing in the produce section staring at a ladybug, and, what should I do?
I believe small moments like this, when no one is watching, and no one has to know what happened is when our spirits have the opportunity to shine. And so, I paused. All kinds of things started to go through my mind. I could just walk away. Right now. I could leave that ladybug there and go on with my shopping. I could leave it there for someone else to inadvertently pick up and take home and cook for dinner.
But I can’t do that. The ladybug had my attention, and I was unwilling or unable to turn away.
So, I thought about the actions I could take. I thought about taking it outside, past the guard at the front entrance, the one put there to enforce the mandatory mask requirements that were just announced. And, I thought about how that interaction would go. I thought about picking up the asparagus with the ladybug on it, walking back out the front entrance and trying to convince this guard standing there looking severe, that I’m not stealing the asparagus, but there was a tiny little, itty bitty ladybug on this big handful of asparagus that needed to be released. Outside.
And, then, I thought, if I could actually get through that conversation, get past the guard with a handful of asparagus while keeping six feet away from him, and showing him a tiny speck of a bug on a handful of asparagus, where on earth would I then put the ladybug? It was just a big parking lot out there. How far can ladybugs fly? Did this one have enough energy to find a new home? What do ladybug homes look like anyway?
And going back outside with the asparagus didn’t make sense to me. In my head I came up with this. The ladybug got my attention and I was now under an obligation to do what I could for this creature. So, I clearly needed to take some kind of action. Right there, right then, I knew I had to bring the ladybug home with me.
So, I began to execute this plan. I got a bag from the roll of bags and I gently and deliberately picked up the bunch of asparagus the ladybug was on. I placed the asparagus and ladybug into the bag which, I then tenderly put into my cart. I left the top of the bag open, you know, so the ladybug could breathe. And then I continued on with my shopping.
When I finished gathering my supplies, I went to the check-out line. As I unloaded my groceries onto the belt, standing at the far end so as not to get too close to the cashier, I thought about the ladybug. I thought about sharing my secret ladybug with the cashier. I thought about pointing it out to her, telling her that I was harboring a ladybug fugitive. Telling her that I was paying extra, really, for the ladybug about to be in my possession. Did that mean I then owned the ladybug? I would ask her this question.
But the process of checking out at the grocery store is so formal these days, and the cashier, having a more dangerous job than perhaps she signed up for, was not very chatty. We occasionally glanced at each other, after I waved hello, through the clear plexiglass barrier put up to protect both of us from each other.
So, I didn’t mention the ladybug to the cashier. But I did think about how that conversation could go. And, in my mind, it went something like this. I would try to find the ladybug, somewhere in the pile of groceries on the conveyer belt, opening the bag and sorting through the asparagus stalks. As I fumbled around, the cashier would look at me wondering what was wrong and what she needed to help with. Then, if I could actually find the ladybug, which was questionable at this point, I would lean in, closer, to show it to her. Then, I had a vision of the ladybug wiggling around and possibly flying away before anyone saw it. And my ladybug sighting would then be very questionable. Kind of like The Crow and the Pumpkin Pie.
I also thought about how the cashier may not be as ladybug positive as I am, perhaps thinking it is a pest. And, if she wasn’t also wearing a mask I could see, in my head, her mouth curl into a shocked and gross expression. There was a bug in the food after all. She would, perhaps, ask me if I want to replace the ladybug with something proper like no ladybug at all. And I would try to dismiss it and wave her off as she reached for the phone to get produce to replace my ladybugged asparagus. I would have to then tell her that I specifically selected this asparagus because it had a ladybug on it and we would stare at each other for a moment of awkward silence.
This seemed like too much, and so I kept it a secret. A secret I didn’t tell the cashier or the person bagging my groceries. A secret I didn’t mention to the person I passed on the way out the door either. It was a secret I took all the way home with me.
I had to make one more stop on the way home. I made sure to park in the shade because I not only had groceries in my car, but I had a ladybug in the back seat. A ladybug that was now under my care. A ladybug that I needed to get home as quickly as possible. A ladybug that was hopefully still there and breathing and hadn’t been squished.
I process the groceries as they come into my home. Wiping them down, putting them away, making room here and there for what I just bought. I gingerly took the asparagus out of my grocery bag and I turned it over a couple of times. I didn’t see the ladybug. I opened the bag and peered in, no ladybug. I couldn’t find it in the bag, it didn’t appear to be on the asparagus, and it didn’t look like it was in any other part of the grocery bag either.
I just shrugged. Oh well, I gave it a good try. My ladybug must have moved along, flown away or decided it wanted to be somewhere else, somewhere far more important.
And, I thought, that is just how things go. Sometimes we never know things like this. Sometimes something that we work for or do doesn’t have a resolution or clear outcome. Life just goes on. Past this event and on to others. I have to admit I was a little sad when I put the asparagus in the fridge. I was resigned to the fact that I just won’t know what happened to the ladybug.
And I went on about life, making dinner that night and moving on to the next day, just like the ladybug, I was sure, was doing with its own life. I didn’t give it much more thought, and I didn’t share it with anyone either, thinking it was a passing moment. A moment that got me through the grocery trip, reminding me that there is a world out there not involved with the limits of our society right now. I thought that was the end of it.
But then, the very next day I pulled the asparagus out of the fridge to prepare it and then cook it for dinner. I opened the bag, not really thinking about the ladybug, but more going about a task, the task of making dinner. I peeled back the edges of the bag so I could grab the asparagus, wash it and snap off the ends before getting it ready to cook.
And, it happened again, right there, hanging onto an asparagus stalk, I saw the ladybug! It made it. It survived the time in my cart, it survived checkout, it survived the time in my car. It survived the bumping and processing and it survived when I closed the top of the bag and put it in the fridge. And now that tiny little ladybug had been in the fridge for the last 24 hours and was sleepishly crawling around as I moved the bag and the bundle of asparagus.
I was so happy to see it that I actually laughed out loud – “Look at you! There you are! You’re still here, you made it!”
My mind jumped into action with thoughts and questions. That little ladybug must be cold and probably hungry too. Where had it come from? Where was it going? What did it need? And so I tried to think like a ladybug thinks. If I was a ladybug what would I want, right now, after all my travels, after all of that jarring and bumping and living in the fridge?
And I knew exactly what I needed to do. Exactly and precisely where the ladybug should live, where I thought it might be happiest and find food because this little ladybug must be starving. And when I’m starving, I want to eat.
I moved quickly. The ladybug had stayed with me this long, but it could take flight at any moment, so I needed to take advantage of every second. I gently grabbed the bag of asparagus with the ladybug still crawling around and I took it outside to my garden.
A day or two earlier I noticed that I had a very unusual problem in my fourth planting of peas. A couple of the pea plants had aphids. This is unusual because I’m not sure my peas have ever had aphids before. Ever. But, sure enough, there were a handful of aphids on my peas.
Ladybugs eat aphids. They devour them really, one right after the other. Not only do they eat aphids, but they are one of the natural pest solutions to aphids. And, I had aphids for this ladybug to eat. This, in my mind, was where the ladybug should live. The ladybug should live in my peas that happened to have aphids.
I got the bag of asparagus and the ladybug out to my garden and to the row of peas. The ladybug was a big groggy. It had been in the refrigerator after all. But it reluctantly and slowly crawled onto my warm fingers. And the more it crawled around on my hand, the happier it seemed to be. Even as I offered it a leaf that had a number of aphids on it, it didn’t want to leave my fingers. And this is where I thought about that saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
There I was, in my garden with a bag of asparagus, talking to a ladybug. I was trying to convince this little tiny creature that this would really be a very good home, here on the peas, if it would just take a look around. I was trying to sell the pea property to the ladybug. I was telling it about the abundance of food, the natural surroundings, the lawn maintenance and care, the watering of the plants so they were healthy. But the ladybug was fickle and didn’t want to leave my warm hand.
Eventually, the ladybug did crawl out onto the leaf of one of the pea plants. It slowly put two of its front legs onto the leaf, then the third and fourth legs before committing to the leap. But, the funniest thing, it didn’t start munching on the aphids. It didn’t even care about the aphids. It stepped around the aphids, the very aphids I used to try to sell the situation to the ladybug.
Nope, this ladybug was not at all interested in the aphids or the reason I landed it where I thought it would be happy, this ladybug was looking for something else and it began to walk down the stalk of the pea plant, on a mission that only it knew. It then turned away, under a leaf and I decided to let it be. That my ladybug duties were now complete, and I really, truly hoped it would have a good life in my garden if it decided to stay at all.
But the thing about these kinds of encounters is that at some point you just don’t know. I don’t know if the ladybug is on another leaf nearby, or if it flew off in some other direction. It isn’t where I left it, when I went back to look, but why would it be? I will never know where it went. It is enough to know I did what I could, and the little ladybug had an impact on me. It’s important for me to remember these kinds of things, because in the end, this is perhaps the most important thing we leave behind, an influence on another.
What I do know is that the aphids have mysteriously disappeared from my pea plants. This could be because of the ladybug, but it also could be for a variety of other reasons. I choose to think the ladybug had something to do with it.