Saving the Firefly

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                Daydreams of a midsummer’s night swirled through my head while I listened to the soft chords pouring from the wooden body of Jon’s guitar. I fumbled into thought, the sweet burn of bourbon radiating from my throat and clinging to my lips. Soon I forgot I was thinking at all, as I often do, musing about the little things people do every day that make the world what it is. But reality rolled up my spine and into my brain and I withdrew from reverie, discovering a faint glow flickering outside the window at the end of my unfocused gaze.

                “What’s that?” I asked abruptly. Jon’s strumming halted as he looked over at me with a half-dazed face. He watched me tip-toe across the sofa cushions, the velvet upholstery supple beneath my feet as I perched on the armrest and glimpsed at the beacon through the dusty glass. I pressed my finger against the window, almost expecting another finger to meet it on the other side.

                “I think it’s a firefly. Is it dying?” I said sadly, crushed by the idea. Ever since I was a child I have cherished fireflies as if they were some sort of sacred fairy of summer. I suddenly recalled a Fourth of July when I was eight, chasing lightning bugs with my cousins. I caught one and watched it, captivated, as it shined within my cupped palms. One of my cousins peered into my hands, snatched it up by the leg and smashed it across the porch banister, leaving a streak of yellowish light. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched the smeared luminous soul fade into the white paint.

                “Can we save it?”  I asked with childlike hope. I could feel the warmth of Jon’s proximity and knowing he was next to me I looked down at him. He beamed up at me - it filled my chest with contentment when he looked at me that way. I hopped off the couch and skipped up the stairs, Jon faithfully following.

                When we stepped out to the porch the thick air clung to my skin. It was hot but smelled like the coolness of rain and thunder. We walked around to the side of house, thin blades of grass folding between my naked toes, and peered down at the basement window. There was the undulating light, tangled in the iridescent threads of a spider web stretched across the window’s frame.

                I pinched the web a few inches from the firefly and gently pulled it away, leaving it dangling in a net. Plopping down on the walkway out front we started to carefully examine the little bug and his constraints. The concrete was cool and rough and felt calm against the skin on my legs; the firefly rested in my humid hand as I slowly began to stretch fragments of ghost-like strands away from its face, its wings.

                “Poor guy,” I whispered, almost afraid if my tone was not soft and compassionate it would frighten the already strained creature. It had stopped glowing but it was unclear to me if it was out of fear or relief that we answered its beacon. The wings were so thin that the web had barely adhered to them and were the easiest to untangle. Jon and I both delicately tugged away sheer wisps from its thin appendages, so tiny and light I could barely feel them pacing across my lifeline as they became loose. I tried to gently pull away the last snarl encompassing the firefly’s right bottom leg. “I can’t get this last bit without ripping his leg off,” I glanced over at Jon who met my defeated eyes with blue irises brimming with kind determination and admiration.

                “Let me try,” he answered, sliding his pointer finger into my palm so the lightning bug could cross onto it like a bridge. Looking at the bush behind Jon, I plucked a leaf off, ripping off the papery green star to leave the bare stem. I twirled the thick joint that had met the branch into the ball of white gluey yarn hanging from its frail leg. The firefly began to climb the ridges of Jon’s calloused fingertip like a rock wall, struggling to pull its leg from the ball and chain. As it reached the summit of his finger, Jon turned his hand down and the firefly began its ascent again. Fibers slowly began to tug away as it hiked over and over Jon’s digits for what seemed like hours although it was only minutes. Suddenly it stopped, exhausted and afraid, as if it were willing to accept its fate. “You can do it,” Jon reassured gently, and after a few seconds it started its trek again and the little foot eased free.

                The corners of my lips stretched uncontrollably to my dimples and I let out a breath of contentment and relief. The firefly paused tranquilly on Jon’s knuckle and faintly shimmered, as if saying thank you.

                “You’re okay little guy, fly away,” Jon whispered, and the fairy unfolded its glassy wings and flew off, receding into an azalea bush next to us.

                “Do you think he’ll be okay?” I gazed at Jon, my smile contagiously creeping across his face.

                “Yeah, yeah I do,” he replied. We just sat there for a while, sometimes looking to each other, sometimes I became distracted by stars glinting through thin gray clouds. A silence full of warmth and empathy hummed between us. It was really such an insignificant act of benevolence; it didn’t change the world or feed the hungry or create world peace. But at that very instant I realized that a thousand small, simple acts could fill the world with more kindness than a single extravagant one: the small influences we have on each other every day really do make the world what it is, and every tiny fragment of compassion fits together.


Created: Feb 06, 2012


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