My friend Michael and I were sitting alongside the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis recently when I witnessed the poignant beauty of imperfection, the hidden strength in what is broken.
This little piece of damp sand, where the water flows past, is a special place for my friend. It’s down a steep, forested embankment. At the bottom is a huge tree that is partially in the water…its branches extending well out into the river. It is here that Michael finds peace, strength and wisdom. He is living with brain cancer, the kind that usually kills its’ hosts in 14 to 18 months. Michael is still here, living well beyond that prognosis, after having had several surgeries and rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, plus a potent prescription for daily immersion in nature.
Michael is a bright light in this world with a spirit that reminds me of my late friend Bruce Kramer. In fact, Michael says he often talks to Bruce in this sacred spot by the river. They have conversations about how healing unfolds, what it means, how it feels, in preparation for dying. This doesn’t surprise me. Bruce delighted in meaningful conversation, no matter the person, place or circumstance.
So, there we sat talking about loss and grief when I noticed a dragonfly on it’s back in the sand. It was fighting to get on its feet, unusual because dragonflies are nimble little creatures, normally moving with effortless elegance and grace. As we talked about the physical and spiritual changes Michael is going through, I kept my eye on this struggle in the sand at my feet. We talked about Michael’s mortality and the unnerving feeling he’s had recently of being unmoored or untethered in this world.
After a time, I grabbed a stick and held it out to the insect. It crawled on, finally upright. It was then we noticed it was missing one of its delicate, magical wings. Surely this little soul was doomed but I also know that in almost every part of the world, in many cultures over millennia, the dragonfly symbolizes change, transformation and an understanding of the deeper meaning of life. What was this damaged dragonfly’s message? Maybe it was not so much a message but rather an opportunity to ask questions and do some deeper thinking.
How we can we all grow through change, transforming what is difficult into something meaningful? How can we use what is “broken” as a strength? How can we do the important work of healing before our inevitable deaths?
What I hope to do with End in Mind is to spark conversations around those questions, to urge others to live with purpose and intent, accepting and then growing into their own mortality. I just needed some gentle encouragement and it came on the broken wings of a dragonfly.