A Gift

A Gift

by Kathleen Murphey

The worldviews of people can be so strikingly different that it seems amazing they can share common ground on anything. This fact was brought sharply to my attention one day when I was in church, sitting next to a man I knew by face but not by name. We had in common our faith, our church, and a preference for the back of the church. He also had a sense of humor and a fondness for children, for he took delight in watching a young mother struggling to keep her three children quiet until the end of the service. She had her hands full, especially with the three- year old boy who seemed determined to climb up her body and squirm his way to freedom.

What I carried away from church that day was not the messages from the Old Testament readings or from the reading from the Gospel or even from the minister’s sermon. It was the two very different experiences that the man next to me and I had with a lady bug. I had noticed something flying around the church and was not particularly keen to find out what it was. It was early March, and the birds had started chirping as they do in the early spring and some insects were poking themselves out of hibernation or hatching out of winter dormant eggs and flying around tentatively.

So this bug flying around church landed on my right hand on the space between my thumb and index finger, and I was delighted to see it was a ladybug—that lovely little creature so useful in gardens and so beloved from the children’s rhyme. I think I murmured the words, “a gift.” I thought briefly about trying to get the tiny creature outside, but I thought that my exiting the church abruptly would disturb people. The man next to me regarded my “friend,” but I was so enchanted that I really wasn’t paying much attention to his expression. Then the lady bug flew away from my hand and landed on the man’s tie. I assumed he would be amused, but he was not. He swatted forcefully at the ladybug and knocked it down, dead, to the church’s stone floor. I am sure I looked surprised, but I was more than that. I was shocked, and all I could think was that I had witnessed “a little death”—but it didn’t seem like a little death. It seemed cold and calculated and intolerant. In the countdown to Easter and the symbolic rebirth to everlasting life, the death of spring life in the house of the Lord seemed a bad omen to me—a lost opportunity to make connections between species and to appreciate the majesty and diversity of life—a failure to embrace Christ’s promise of regeneration and renewal.

Perhaps I was just foolish and overly sensitive, but my eyes kept drifting back to the little corpse on the stone floor that possibly, no one other than myself would ever notice. Though the incident pained me and motivated me to record that pain, I am sure that the man next to me in church will remember the struggling toddler rather than the ladybug. And yet it seems to me that we all have to care more about “little lives” and the world around us if we are to survive into this new century. So here’s a wish for longer lady bug lives, changing world views, and a shared future where human stewardship over the earth’s resources and all her creatures is our calling and our gift to those who come after us. n

Kathleen Murphey is an English professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. Kathleen joined PhilWP as a teacher consultant the summer of 2008.