They are blinking, blinking, blinking.
They're out there tonight--the fireflies--in the mulberry tree just beyond our fence where the groundhogs come in the late summer to eat mulberries that have fermented and make them drunk. A drunk groundhog is a wonder to behold!
And the lightening bugs are in our yard as well. I sat and watched them blink for 20 minutes tonight.
My dear friend, Harriet, wrote me an email about lightening bugs after my blog about them. If I'm more adroit at technology than I think I am, I'm going to put that email here.
Jim, I just read your blog and have my own firefly story. Before we went to Maine, before 6/20, one of those nights of powerful thunderstorms, I was awakened at 10PM and then again at 2AM by flashes of lightning followed by cracks of thunder - the kind that make me shoot out of bed - and pounding rain. And then at 4:30AM there was just lightning, silent. The silence and light was profound. I kept waiting for sound. I couldn't quite believe in heat lightning in June, so I got out of bed and looked out the window. There I could see the sky, filled with silent lightning bursts. And under it, our meadow, filled with lightning bugs (as we call them) or fireflies, flashing in response. I've never seen anything like it. I can't remember the last time I saw a lightning bug. And then your blog. Is this, too, part of global warming? Are you and I being transported back to the warmer climes of our youth, West Virginia and Texas? Well, if it means lightning bugs, the future won't be all bad. I did do it, by gum.... So the lightening bugs are blinking, as we are, you and I. Blinking and flashing and living. You and I. Here's the thing, I've been thinking about a poem I wrote 4 years ago or so. I used to leave St. John's and go visit folks in the hospital or nursing home or their own home on my way to my home. Somehow the blinking of the fireflies has reminded me of that. So, I'll try, once more to be more media savvy than I think I am and share it with you.
I DRIVE HOME
I drive home through pain, through suffering,
through death itself.
I drive home through Cat-scans and blood tests
and X-rays and Pet-scans (whatever they are)
and through consultations of surgeons and oncologists
and even more exotic flora with medical degrees.
I drive home through hospitals and houses
and the wondrous work of hospice nurses
and the confusion of dozens more educated than me.
Dressed in green scrubs and Transfiguration white coats,
they discuss the life or death of people I love.
And they hate, more than anything, to lose the hand
to the greatest Poker Player ever, the one with all the chips.
And, here’s the joke, they always lose in the end—
the River Card turns it all bad and Death wins.
So, while they consult and add artificial poison
to the Poison of Death—shots and pills and IV’s
of poison—I drive home and stop in vacant rooms
and wondrous houses full of memories
and dispense my meager, medieval medicine
of bread and wine and oil.
Sometimes I think…sometimes I think…
I should not drive home at all
since I stop in hospitals and houses to bring my pitiful offering
to those one step, one banana peel beneath their foot,
from meeting the Lover of Souls.
I do not hate Death. I hate dying, but not Death.
But it is often too much for me, stopping on the way home
to press the wafer into their quaking hands;
to lift the tiny, pewter cup of bad port wine to their trembling lips;
and to smear their foreheads with fragrant oil
while mumbling much rehearsed words and wishing them
whole and well and eternal.
I believe in God only around the edges.
But when I drive home, visiting the dying,
I’m the best they’ll get of all that.
And when they hold my hand with tears in their eyes
and thank me so profoundly, so solemnly, with such sweet terror
in their voices, then I know.
Driving home and stopping there is what I’m meant to do.
A little bread, a little wine and some sweet smelling oil
may be—if not enough—just what was missing.
I’m driving home, driving home, stopping to touch the hand of Death.
Perhaps that is all I can do.
I tell myself that, driving home, blinded by pain and tears,
having been with Holy Ones.
Someone once told me, "We're all dying, you know. It's just a matter of timing...."
One of the unexpected blessings of having been a priest for so long is the moments, the flashes, I've gotten to spend with 'the holy ones', those about to pass on from this life.
Hey, if you woke up this morning you're ahead of a lot of folks. Don't waste the moment.
(I told Harriet and she agreed, that we would have been blessed beyond measure to have walked down in that meadow while the silent lightening lit the sky to be with the fire-flies, to have them hover around us, light on our arms, in our hair, on our clothes, be one with them....flashing, blinking, sharing their flares of light. Magic.)