Many a summer day started with the boys hauling a large bucket down to the lake shore and filling it to the brim with water. They left it behind as they waded into the cold water with me. A great sand storm swirled below the surface as six feet moved with quiet determination in search of salamanders.
“There’s one here!” Jackson shouted. My eyes searched the murky water and spied a salamander at rest down below. Reaching through the water, I cupped my hands around the front and back of his soft body, but he was elusive. With a swift wave of his tail, he darted up and away, just out of reach. I followed close behind and we played this cat and mouse game for several rounds until finally, my hands gently folded around him and carried his wriggling body into the summer air.
“You caught him!” Jackson hollered. “Let me hold him! Let me hold him!”
“In just a second,” I replied. We huddled together and watched him closely in the cradle fashioned from my two hands. His skin shined an earthy green, and black speckles painted his smooth body. Two peppercorn eyes stared back at us as he trudged across the palm of my hand, having shed his graceful motion in the lake below.
We waded back toward the shore, and I dropped him into his private little pool inside the waiting bucket. Jackson doted on him and named him Acorn, but my work wasn’t yet done.
Parker would want one as well. I followed the same strategy until I caught yet another one. The morning passed with endless motion as the boys took care of a bit of life with their wrinkled fingers.
While catching salamanders begins with an action, it is not surprising that catching dragonflies is a completely different undertaking – it is all about stillness. We discovered this one afternoon while I stood with Parker out by the diving boards under sky blue skies. He watched dozens of dragonflies flit through the air around us. He bounced and darted with outstretched arms and expectant fingers hoping for a catch, but always came up empty handed.
He grew frustrated and took a little break. Instead of chasing after them, he watched them zoom along, their wings humming softly as they whirled by. And then, unexpectedly, he caught one. In the stillness, they came closer and closer until one came to rest upon his tiny arm.
“Don’t move! You caught one!” I pointed out. His eyes glanced downward and smiled proudly, having finally procured a dragonfly. The moment lasted little more than an instant and then our dragonfly took flight again, but we were hooked. We became statues that day, with outstretched arms warmed by the sun’s bright rays. In our stillness, the dragonflies came to trust us as a place of refuge where they could rest their delicate wings.
The more I watch the world, the more I notice opposing forces all around me – the push and pull between action and stillness, sorrow and joy, chaos and peace; each one the perfect counterpart to the other half, neither better nor worse, neither right nor wrong. Much like the way the inhale and exhale of our breath partner together to sustain life, these opposing forces are ever present. We oscillate between them over minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years.
I’m learning that some pursuits require a purposeful action while others are best realized through stillness, or inaction. Knowing which to employ can be difficult to discern. What are we trying to catch, salamanders or dragonflies?
May we be brave enough to take action, to jump all in, to make a change, to do, to act, to catch a salamander. And may we be brave enough to do the exact opposite; to quiet ourselves; to be still with our energy; to rest, to watch, to listen, to catch a dragonfly.
These two opposing forces are shaping our stories every single day. They are our inhale and our exhale. Most certainly, we need both.