Every night around 9:30 I take Suzanna to the field behind our house for one last sniff, one more pee, one final look around the property for bunnies and baby opossums before we all fall asleep to “Will and Grace” at 10. While Suzanna carries out her nightly patrol, I stand at the edge of the cul-de-sac that borders the field and marvel at the lightning bugs. There seem to be millions of them. They float in midair. They hover in the treetops. They appear in my periphery, or right in front of me, and before I can completely focus on them they have extinguished themselves for the moment, only to light up again a few feet away. From a distance they create an awesome light show. The dark trees seem to sparkle, and the field–just a hollow expanse of black at this time of night–is like an extension of the sky filled with hundreds of twinkling stars. It’s a wonderful way to end the day.
According to the official encyclopedia entry, there’s a perfectly logical scientific explanation for fireflies and their amazing lights. For me, though, it all boils down to communication. They’re out there in the dark talking to each other. For them the darkness is literal, natural, a part of their normal routine. But we could take some cues from them, since we humans encounter our own fair share of darkness on a regular basis. In our case it’s not necessarily literal, and it’s certainly not natural, but it’s darkness all the same. It’s poverty and hunger. It’s heartache and rejection. It’s sickness and death. It’s anger and resentment. Sometimes it doesn’t even have a name, but we feel it covering us anyway, like those shadowy Dementor things in the Harry Potter books. We may not be able to put a finger on it, but we can feel it sucking us dry.
So what does all of this have to do with fireflies?
I once read an article about how people who hike the Appalachian Trail use flashlights to signal to each other at night. They click on and off to alert other hikers of their positions; they send messages, like Morse code; they reach out across the blackness with their lights. It’s what the fireflies have been doing all along, and it’s something we all could learn to do, even in our metaphoric darkness. How much brighter would the world be if people, like tiny little lightning bugs, became creatures who speak to one another with light?