I once started crying in a falafel joint in Philadelphia because I saw a father upbraid his son for not doing well at school. He spat when he spoke, his wife pursed her lips and his sister said “I’d help you if I were in big kid school.” It was too much for me to watch. A couple of tears landed in my hummus.
And on Tuesday night, just outside the opera house in Vienna, I gave money to a woman on a crutch who told me she had lost her wallet, had already reported it to the police and just needed a fare to get the train home. I suspended disbelief.
If that wasn’t enough, when I went to see the King’s Speech with LSB, I was in such a state afterwards that I refused to leave the cinema in case I met somebody I knew.
You see, I have a delicate sensibility.
I also like ladybirds, a lot.
So you can imagine my reaction when one landed on my toe last Sunday afternoon. I was sitting on a bench in a beautiful Viennese park. The sun was scalding me, my eyes were closed and I felt something brush against my toe. I was preparing to flick the offending creature away when LSB said “Look, Katzi!”
I looked down and squealed with delight. There it was – a beautiful, well-rounded specimen with chunky spots and a confident crawl. I watched it and asked LSB to take a picture to preserve for posterity.
After some time, it ambled away contentedly to a stretch of pathway. I watched it go a little sadly. Then all of a sudden a wave of people passed by directly in front of me, completely obscuring my view of the ladybird.
“Oh no, no, no, no!” I cried.
LSB winced. “Don’t look, Katzi.”
I had to.
It had been trodden on but it was still alive, flailing.
I rushed to it. Some of its legs were crushed. I tried to encourage it onto a newspaper in my hand. It would not move.
I stayed there a while. I felt I was being watched but I didn’t feel like looking up.
Then a woman’s voice said to me, “The newspaper won’t work. Try your finger!”
I looked up to find a middle-aged lady with brown curls and a loose blouse peering down at me.
I took her advice but it didn’t work. I told her that the ladybird had been stepped on.
“Oh well that’s the end of him then,” she said, smiling apologetically before walking away.
I returned to the bench and watched the bug. It had stopped moving.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do, Katzi,” said LSB sadly. “But it wasn’t your fault.”
I got down on my knees and looked at it again carefully.
The lady came back. She licked her finger, scooped the ladybird up and plopped it in my hand.
“That’s how you do it,” she said.
I was startled but grateful. LSB laughed a little.
The ladybird moved.
“It’s alive!” I cried.
It began to push forward with its two undamaged legs.
I set it down on a leaf at the edge of a lawn. It moved forward a little and then toppled over onto its back. I turned it back over.
This happened a few times. Then LSB said, “Katzi, this time let it try on its own.”
That was wisdom and my first insight into my shortcomings as a future parent.
It managed to turn itself over. There was no guarantee that it would master the concrete ledge onto the lawn. But it was time to go.
“It wasn’t your fault,” said LSB again.
Since then I have seen several crushed ladybirds on the pavement.
But yesterday, while I was swimming in the Danube, I spotted a ladybird in the water.
Without thinking, I scooped it up into both my hands and brought it to safety.
Even more impressively, today I ate a falafel sandwich and nothing about it or my surroundings offended my sensibilities.