Finally, the mold remediation that’s kept me away from the things I want to do is mostly over, and I can get back to writing instead of scrubbing every damned thing I own and using my now-balky knees to haul it up and down the stairs. (Our problem, mostly, came from the carpet. No matter how hard you try to keep it clean, we were told, vacuuming the carpet is rather like vacuuming the lawn. Don’t take my word for it, though. Get a petri dish test kit and see for yourself — chances are it’ll look like this).
How peaceful, then, to sit on the porch without that care hanging over me any longer and watch the glittering in the trees that always fires up in late May around here. When I first moved to north Georgia, my city-trained eyes saw the glittering as an airplane making its distant way to a place I could only guess. But I saw another and another, and then scores more, slow to realize that fireflies, hundreds of them, were floating through the night air.
I had not seen very much of fireflies for long, long years. When I was younger, visiting my grandparents’ home in North Carolina, fireflies were plentiful. Like children everywhere, we would chase these flying jewels and capture them in jars, marveling up close at their mysterious call-and-response.
And, like boys everywhere, I had to be more destructive. I would take a ping-pong paddle and stalk the yard, waiting for the floating beacons to fire up so I could take a swing at them.
Even when I was doing it, the deed felt wrong to me somehow. Here was a uncommonly beautiful thing that flew near me, as near as breath, almost trusting. A boy’s appreciation of such things is more limited than a man’s, and all I could think of back then was to smash them out of the air.
Immature. Selfish. Certainly thoughtless, a mistake made for the false pleasure of instant gratification. And, I always believed, the fireflies somehow knew it. For years after this, I would rarely see any, only a glimpse here and there, though surely they must still fly somewhere in their thousands.
There must have been some logical explanation, I thought. Perhaps in later years I lived where fireflies seldom ranged, anyway. Maybe there was some cruel imperative of biology or climate that thinned their numbers. Maybe my concentration was elsewhere, so caught up in my own struggle for survival that I simply ignored them.
Truth is, though, that I have always believed the fireflies were taken from me. It would be easy to claim that I was only a lad, not even 10 years old, without the brains God gave an ice cube. That explains the behavior, maybe, but doesn’t excuse it.
Things that should be treasured are hurt because we sometimes behave in ways that serve only the narrowest of self-interests. Immaturity and foolish behavior are things we all can understand in ourselves, and I have learned to take it easy on myself — even though narrow self-interest, immaturity and foolishness took me longer than other people to get shed of it seems.
However strong the desire to go back and do things over, there’s no way that can happen. The best we can do is to learn from mistakes, wait for the second chance and hope that the mistakes we did make don’t wind up damaging us or the things we treasure beyond hope.
I can sit on my porch now and think differently about everything. And the fireflies, almost as if they simply were waiting for that, have returned their amazing gift to me. If anything, they are more spectacular than I remember.
If we’re patient and lucky, what was lost can be restored, more dazzling and beautiful than before, a second chance that — however much we might congratulate ourselves for it — owes everything to the forgiveness of fireflies.