It was on the infinite green lawn of a West Virginia lakehouse I can just barely remember that I first encountered lightning bugs.
The littlest cousin, the Colorado girl, I was afraid to jump off of the boat into murky Cheat Lake. I wasn’t certain of my older cousins’ waterskiing or beer-drinking antics. I felt small and uncertain.
But there was one thing I knew for sure: I loved the lightning bugs. Out we’d creep at dusk, with mason jars in hand. We’d run up behind them and startle them into a glowing frenzy. I remember dancing amidst their spectacular shimmer.
as fast as I could
into a sparkling mist. Or that’s how it seemed.
We’d usher them into the jars – as many as we could fit.
And I’d do my best to convince my parents to let me keep the jar at my bedside.
A lightning bug nightlight!
But somehow, in her gentle way, Mom would always convince me to set them free.
But what if we poked air holes in the top? But what if we gave them lightning bug food? I would plead. But Mom always stood firm.
Lightning bugs could not be kept in a jar. They would lose their light.
In the morning we’d find them at the bottom of the jar, wispy and dark.
So, reluctantly, we’d set them free just before bed. And I’d watch them swarm out into the stars.
I had an inkling, even then, that there was a bigger lesson there. And I knew in my heart, even then, that somehow, some way, I was related to those bugs.
Years later a friend and I escaped to Breakwater Beach in Chatham, MA for a summer wedding. We were armed with champagne and exuberance. We popped our bubbly amidst the froth of a gentle midnight tide.
And then we saw them.
Everywhere. In the trees. Amidst the bushes. Dodging the quiet rain. Glowing intermittently. Tempting us with their magic.
I haven’t caught a lightning bug since those muggy West Virginia nights at the Lake House. I haven’t seen them since that night with Colleen.
But sometimes when I close my eyes, I feel a buzzing. A flutter. An intermittent glow. As if they are inside me – swarming busily in preparation to be set free. They are sparkling and shimmering – anticipating the moment when they will escape. Soar. Into the night. To twinkle among the stars.
And I wonder what they are teaching me.
Perhaps to keep glowing and swarming and tempting and teasing.
Perhaps to never confine myself behind glass walls.
To never settle for air holes.
Or perhaps, most important of all,
to allow oneself to be caught;
but also to allow oneself to be set free.
Every once in awhile Nick tells me that I smile while I am sleeping. He asks me if I had a pleasant dream.
And though I can’t know for certain just what is occurring behind my closed lids, I have a sense
that it involves the lightning bugs.