The other day, my friend confirmed a recent suspicion of mine: the fireflies I remember so vividly from my childhood are gone.
I close my eyes and think back to summer nights that started after 8:00 p.m. The flashes would begin at dusk – just intermittent winks of light. I’d catch the tail end of one in my peripheral vision and then begin to search in earnest. By full dark, trees and bushes would glow with the seemingly never-ending sparks.
At what time of night did the light displays end? Do you remember? I was always tucked into bed long before that discovery was possible. But not too early to miss catching several in my own cupped hands. They would tickle my palms as I peeked through finger cracks, eagerly waiting for the glow.
Some kids liked to imprison their prey in jars. Glass cells where the poor things inevitably perished if not set free after bedtime by thoughtful parents. But I preferred to slowly unclasp fingers and then track the progress of my firefly’s escape back into the night – counting flashes until they blended with the rest.
For me, it was better than wishing on stars. More tangible. Of this earth – this world that was mine to roam until called inside.
But at some point between then and now, I stopped looking for the fireflies. And in my absence, they disappeared.
Apparently pesticides have slowly killed them off over the years. Where there were once hundreds – maybe thousands – there are now just a handful. The few pin pricks of light in the dark are a mere echo of their once brilliant past. And this makes me sad.
I loved fireflies.
It was my children who instigated this realization. I wanted them to see fireflies and catch them on summer evenings with me. Years passed, and I assumed that we just went inside too early or that I got busy and forgot to look. I guess not.
Happy childhood memories have always evoked feelings of security for me. I assume for all of us, really. And I think that this is what I find most disturbing about the loss of firefly nights. It’s such a clear reflection of how insecure I feel in the world right now.
I’m not saying that life was perfect when I was little. In fact, there were some very dark and scary times that I’m lucky enough to not quite remember. But the world can be as beautiful as it is terrible, and children are adept at finding light in the darkness. For them, the future is full of potential and hope is a given.
Then we leave childhood behind. And the arduous process of growing up is all consuming. Moments of wonder are lost in the shuffle of expected achievement and increasing responsibility. At least, this is what happened to me.
But now I’m old enough to slow down a bit. And here I am, remembering childhood through my own children. Looking for lost fireflies.
What I’ve discovered is that the future doesn’t stretch are far as it used to. And beauty is more easily made than found. And when you’re surrounded by soul crushing sadness and disappointment, it’s hard to find the motivation for beauty-making.
The truth is, as fortunate as I am to have wonderful people in my life – people I can call both friends and family – so many of them are suffering. Horrible, unthinkable things are happening to these people I love. Addiction, mental illness, unemployment, infirmity, financial ruin, death… And there is nothing I can do to help them.
I don’t have money or connections. I don’t have power or influence. I’m not even that much of a hugger. My heart bleeds for all that I cannot give.
And I’m not exempt. Who is? We all harbor our share of worries and heartbreak. I have of yet to meet anyone who leads a life untouched by shadows. Dusk comes earlier for some than others, but it’s impossible to live an entire life without some very dark nights.
Someone I love is suffering more than I can possibly imagine. I’ve known her my whole life and shared terrible secrets with her. We considered ourselves to be survivors, and at one time thought acknowledging the ugly past would earn us a better future.
This has not proved true for her. She has to face several of the awful problems listed above. And she deserves none of it. I’ve never known anyone work harder to make life better – to do the right thing. And I am reeling from the injustice of her current reality.
The worst of it for me is the helplessness I feel. I literally cannot help. I can’t cure addiction or mental illness. I can’t heal people. I have no money to pay for…anything. I have nothing to offer.
Except maybe one thing. I have an unparalleled talent for dissociation. I can actually ignore the worst that this terrible-beautiful world throws at me. I look through it. Past it. I don’t accept it.
I have hope.
I know. That sounds like complete crap in the face of an impossible situation. But I also know that this irrational assumption that things will get better – that things have to get better – is what has carried me through some of the worst times of my life.
I was born in late April, and I am true to my birth sign. I am a child of the earth. I may not burn bright; but I am sure and steadfast. I don’t fly free; but I dig in my heels and I hold my ground. I don’t flow effortlessly into emotional relationships; but once planted, I am not easily uprooted.
You can count on me. I stay put. And if necessary, I can will good things to happen. At the very least, I’ll try.
I still believe in that. Call it faith, call it the power of positive thinking or call it magic – but I will do it. I will make this world better for the people I love, even if all I can give them is myself.
And maybe that can be enough. Maybe it just has to be.
I brought children into this life, and I’d be damned if I let it fail them. They deserve better than hard work for no pay. They deserve delusions of invincibility and gentle reality checks. They deserve frivolity and irreverence. They deserve long summer nights full of twinkling insect magic. And I will do everything in my power to give this to them.
I will give them firefly nights.
And tonight I did. We walked home from a friend’s house and found a stretch of grass where several sparks lit the darkening shadows. It may not have been the hundreds or thousands of fairy lights from my own childhood, but three new, shiny souls exclaimed in wonder and giggled and capered. They chased and captured and marveled. They held a glow between their palms and set it free.
It was nothing like what I remember, but it was enough. And where I might lament the diminished brilliance, they will only remember the intoxicating magic.
I miss the innocence of youth. The expectation of better things to come in the future. The belief that anything is possible. I miss summer nights when sparkling constellations of firefly lights challenged the stars in the sky.
But I understand that this happens to everyone. It’s part of growing up – growing old. We have to let go of the past and embrace the future. We have to accept that life isn’t fair. We have to be there for the people we love and offer whatever we have to give, no matter how meager.
All we can do is remember the brilliant past and let it inspire us to hope.
Each one of us has our share of demons to battle. And we all have loved ones to champion. We fight the good fight, and we fight to win. There is beauty in that. And I, for one am honored to do my part for the people I love. For my own children. For myself.
So that is what I have to offer. It can never be enough, but it will have to be enough – simply because it is all I have to give.
The fireflies may be harder to find these days, but I’m still here.
I will always be right here.
No matter what you have lost. You still have me.