And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
To say that the news in our country has been dark lately is an understatement. It’s been midnight here. Covid, gun control, the January 6 hearings, the ridiculous killing of Roe vs. Wade. The continual battle of “I’m right, you’re wrong.” My computer opens immediately to the news headlines, and I think I’m going to have to change that setting, allowing me to at least get a cup of coffee in and a decent breakfast before I have to face it.
With this darkness hanging around me, I found a light in an unexpected place. And in an unexpected being – a bug.
The AllWriters’ classroom was rapidly running out of treats and chocolate for the students – yes, there are always munchies and chocolate on my classroom table. I taught on Tuesday night until 9:00, and I had a class the next day at 1:00. There were next to no treats left. In the morning, I had clients from 9 until noon, and then, with squeezing in setting up the classroom, taking the dog out, and getting my own lunch, there was no time to run to the store. Our faithful backyard Walgreens is open until 10:00 at night, so once my students were out the door and I’d cleaned everything up and put it away, I headed out across the city parking lot to get to the Walgreens parking lot, and then to Walgreens.
Living in a city, you wouldn’t expect to see much in the way of nature or wildlife, but it struggles through. I’ve seen raccoons and possum, rabbits, and of course, flocks of birds, including the jackassy red-winged blackbird. Lately, there have been coyote sightings, as well as fox sightings. There are spiders galore, and stinkbugs and so on.
In between the city lot and the Walgreens lot, there is a little connecting strip of sidewalk that I call the bridge. It passes through a neighbor’s back yard and a little grove of bushes and trees. I was tired and still had a full night of reading manuscripts in front of me, so I was walking fairly slowly, with my hands stuck in my back pockets and my eyes studying the ground in front of me.
And that’s when I saw it. That flash of green mixed with just a little bit of yellow. A fluorescent flash. A bug flash.
A firefly! Or, from when I lived in Minnesota, a lightning bug.
I stopped on that little bridge sidewalk and just watched and waited. In a moment, there were more flashes, and soon I was surrounded by a flashlight firefly brigade. Their flight pattern is random and graceful, swirls that don’t seem to have any intent at all. There is no buzz, there are no stingers. It doesn’t bite. It just flashes, on and off, a beacon. You could see it as small, slow-motion fireworks, or you could see it just as I did right there – a moment filled with natural light. A gift. Beautiful.
When I was a little girl living in the northern part of Minnesota, we had a huge backyard. It was split from the backyard neighbors by a creek that bubbled through. My time there, from when I was six years old to twelve, were filled with activities like Tarzan swings that hung from the trees and carried me flying over the creek, which was shallow, so I was never in danger of drowning. I “fished” with a stick with a string tied to it, a bent nail at the other end of the string as a hook. I never caught anything, except in my imagination. I ran with my friends through sprinklers, I danced in my swimming suit in the rain. When the sun was up, I chased after what I now know were moths, but what I called butterflies; little white-winged and yellow-winged loopy flyers that when caught, would sit for a moment on my palms, wings slowly opening and closing. I also caught grasshoppers to watch them spit, and I scooped frog eggs out of the creek into a bucket to watch them hatch into polliwogs and then tadpoles before I would release them back into the water.
And as the sun went down and the moon rose…lightning bugs.
I don’t remember chasing lightning bugs before I moved to Minnesota. Until I just turned six, I lived outside of St. Louis in Berkeley, Missouri. I can’t say for sure that there weren’t lightning bugs there. It may be that I was just too young to stay up after dark and chase after them.
But I do remember them in Minnesota. They were magic. When I caught one, like the moths, it would sit on my palm for a bit, glowing on and off in a code only it knew. And then it would fly away and I’d be off, chasing after another one. I don’t remember ever putting any in jars with holes in the lid made by nails. I always let them go free. I did capture caterpillars and put them in a jar, watching further magic as they wove themselves into a cocoon and came out victoriously as a butterfly…sometimes one with striking colors, but mostly more of my yellow and white friends.
But fireflies. Lightning bugs. They strolled in the air around me last Tuesday night, and I stood mesmerized, caught in the moment with them, and caught in the past with myself. A little girl who knew nothing about a virus that took people’s breath away, or children dying in mass shootings at the hands of someone who was a child himself, or enraged, crazed people breaking through the doors of history and tearing evidence of that history apart, all while threatening to kill everyone inside, hoisting a noose as if it was commonplace and okay, or a world where a woman’s body is controlled by the government.
I just stood there, watching the little flashlights. One landed on my forearm for just a couple seconds, and then off it went. I breathed, “Thank you!” after it.
I went on my way into Walgreens, smiling the whole way. I bought my students an extra large bag of chocolate.
It’s amazing where you can find light, even when you’ve convinced yourself that light is now impossible to find.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.