Every month for 21 years, I wrote an essay for 'The Outrider', St. John's in Waterbury's monthly newsletter. My essay was called, 'The View from Above the Close' because my third floor and then second floor office looked out on the Close of the church. (Like most things Anglican, we have funny names for simple things. Most people would call 'the Close' the yard or the lawn. The grass inside the gate and fence is, in Episco-speak, 'the Close', from 'enclosure', go figure.)
I happened today to be looking at hard copies of some of those over 200 essays when I happened across this one--entitled "Fireflies, Nintendo, bug zappers, my cat Catherine and other cosmic thoughts."
I wrote this in July of 1990. Catherine is long dead, alas. About a quarter of a century has passed and this was written in Summer rather than Autumn. But I want to share it with you to let you know what I was pondering 34.3% of my life ago. I wish I'd come across it in July, but I stand by it none-the-less.
A few things first.
1. Newsweek, a few weeks ago, had an editorial by a man who had refused to budge on the issue of Nintendo games for his children. NO WAY, JOSE (or more accurately, NO WAY, MARIO! He had said to the incredible advertizing and peer pressure trying to convince him to let his children play Nintendo games. My children play Nintendo--in fact have moved on to Sega Genesid.
For the uninitiated, these are video games that usually involve slaughtering innumerable video enemies before they slaughter you. I've never seen the point myself, being a child of 'team sports' and the outdoors. Nintendo bores me. I simply don't have the time. However, I know my children can kill millions of video villains and still refuse to squash a spider or other bugs in their rooms. They squeal if I squash them--wanting me to capture and liberate them outside.
2. Where I come from, fireflies illuminate the summer sky like the Northern Lights. They swarm and blink. As a child I would catch a jar full on a July night, squeeze off their blinking tails and make a bracelet out of light. When I tell my children this, they scream and wail. They are not so cruel. Maybe I should have played Nintendo rather than slaughtered fireflies.
3. Our neighbors across the street have a bug zapper--a luminescent blue coil that kills bugs with a noise like static on an old Motorola radio. I went to a lawn party in August years ago when bug zappers were brand new. One of the guests was a Buddhist. Each time a bug died in a fit of static, he blanched and ached. The Cosmic Force moaned within him. The host turned off the machine. The party continued--insect bites were a small price to pay for having the Cosmos at peace with Itself.
4. Our kitten--Catherine--kills bugs for sport. She must have read King Lear at some point. Sometimes she eats them and shakes her head from the bad taste. Most often she chases them and catches them and plays with them until they die. There is no static sound. And if I see her chasing a firefly, I shoo her away.
Out on our back porch--our deck--the bugs rule. We burn citronella and talk about buying a yellow light. We get bit and listen to the static zaps across the street. And there are fireflies--"lightening bugs" I learned to call them--that flicker and fade from time to time. There aren't as many in New England as in West Virginia. There are buckets full there. In Cheshire, I can count them on my fingers.
Here's a summer evening cosmic thought for you--we are like lightening bugs...we glimmer and glow for a while and eventually a bug zapper or a kitten or time itself snuffs out our light. All flesh is like grass, the Prophet Isaiah said over 2800 years ago. Like the flower, we wither and die. And, I say, like the glowworm, we glitter and then fade away.
Out on my deck, in deep summer, life seems almost as fleeting as it is wonder-filled. How odd--noticing the fragile-ness of life enhancing its value. Something Rare and Precious. A Gift.
If I weren't so happy to be alive, I might think of some profound moral to all this. As it is, I will enjoy the fireflies, thank God for my children, honor the lives of bugs, acknowledge that Catherine was born to hunt and kill, despise the bug zapper across the street, slap and scratch when need be, and--being like the flower that faded--make the most of the moment.
Summer invites cosmic thinking. Some holy 'round the edges.
If you need some evidence about the wonder of God, I'd invite you to sit on my back porch for a while, just after dark. It is so still, you can almost hear the whisper of our Creator, singing the cosmos to sleep. And life whispers back, softly as a firefly's glow.
When I wrote this, we had more cats than anyone needs.Catherine, the kitten, gave us her daughter, Millie, so bad none of Mimi's friends would adopt her. Chuck and Luke came to us later at the same time. Chuck lived and died, a bad cat. Luke lives on, happy that the others are long dead, loving being 'the only cat'. When I wrote that, Josh was 15 and Mimi was 12--now they are 39 and 36 and Mimi is getting married in October. We've had three different dogs since I wrote that.
Life does move on and things change, evolve, transform.
But when I read what I wrote over 24 years ago, I still believe it. It still rings true.
Ponder what is Holy 'round the edges. Ponder how God sings the Creation to sleep. Ponder how life answers back, glowing....
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- watching Bern in the yard
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