The grand choreographer has quite a sense of humor. Saturday’s divine comedy must have drifted out into the sunlight along with the dandelion root I had just extricated from our garden. “M-o-m! M-o-m!” Brad eerily whispered from the catalpa tree. “Put down the hoe! Come here!” he pleaded in his most ‘Bela Lugosi’ like voice.
“What’s up?” I asked, continuing to dig.
“You gotta’ see this,” he implored.
I dropped my hoe and headed toward him, relieved that the squiggly brown snake he was grasping wasn’t a reptile at all but merely a small branch.
“Look at that,” he pointed breathlessly. Finally I saw! What a sight! We’d been given the privilege of witnessing “Life” in transformation. Clinging to the rough tree bark was the outer skeleton of some quite large insect. A crack in its armor had revealed a creature with two black, protruding eyes and a long, sleek body. It was slowly emerging from its former self into the Saturday morning sunshine.
“Wow!” I exclaimed with a wondrous respect for Mother Nature. “Don’t touch it. I’ll be right back.” I dashed toward the house in search of the video camera. Minutes later I emerged a true naturalist ready to film history in the making.
“What is it?” he blurted as I began filming our wildlife documentary. He seemed a bit troubled by my somewhat erratic behavior.
“I’m not sure, Bud,” I replied as I focused in on the creature from different angles, “But that shell with its six claws looks like the remains of a seventeen year locust, a cicada. I thought they weren’t due again for another five years.”
“Yuk!” he said in disgust. I’ll never be able to eat again.”
“Ah, look, Brad,” I continued tenderly, ignoring his discomfort. “Look at those little green wings.”
“Well,” I encouraged, “The locust is waiting for them to dry in the breeze. Watch with me. They’ll look much larger as they begin to dry.”
The poor creature, who would probably have preferred to molt in private, was squirming and wiggling in an effort to free himself. Meanwhile, our witness to Life’s effort of renewal would surly be the envy of any biologist. “This just might make the channel nine news,” I joked, trying to impress upon him the significance of the event. “Don’t you want to watch?”
“Nah,” was his nonchalant reply as he drifted off in search of the other neighborhood kids.
Just then the phone rang. Brad ran to answer it looking for an excuse to get away. It was his sister, Amy, who was at a friend’s house down the street. She asked to talk to me but Brad told her I couldn’t come to the phone.
“Why? What’s she doing?” asked Amy.
“She’s taking bug videos.”
“She’s taking videos of this creepy bug I found in the cigar tree.”
“ Ew! Sounds gross.”
And there it was in a locust shell. I had followed some urge to record the awesomeness of nature while my kids seemed to mock me from the sidelines. That wasn’t unusual. After all, Amy was almost 13 and Brad would soon be 8. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be accused of being a bit out of touch with reality.
So there we were; me, the tree, the birdsong, the luscious green grass, the weeds, the anticipation and the miniscule messenger with six crusted claws. It took longer than I thought for the cicada’s wings to expand into their full size, but as I stood witness, zooming the lens in and out and shooting from different angles, I was also listening to that wonderful aria of the neighborhood children at play. We definitely lived in a kid-friendly zone, looking out for each other’s children as they climbed trees, drove hot-wheels bikes, organized whiffle-ball games or worked on friendship bracelets on front porches. I treasured the days we could all spend outside, and I wasn’t going to let a little cynicism get in the way of my enterprise.
The longer I stood there dancing ‘round the tree, the more I was beginning to sense that, like this cicada, I too, had cracks in my armor, an armor that needed to be shed. Perhaps some metamorphosis was occurring inside me. Fear of failure had definitely been a burdensome cloak that needed to go. I had been so ashamed of this horror of all horrors and had worn it much too long. I was a vulnerable soul who had wanted to appear invulnerable. Why? Everyone’s been shattered and knows heartache. That’s the one thing we all share.
I especially needed to overcome my fear of returning to the classroom. I had taught third grade for ten years in a wonderful school until the birth of our first child, at which point I longed to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband, Carey and I had agreed that I could devote my energies to childrearing until our kids were in school. Because of a miscarriage between our two little ones, I had been out of touch with teaching for ten years and had grave reservations about returning. I was terrified of some unknown disaster that would surely expose my incompetence were I to cross the threshold of my own dichotomy; longing to teach and yet certain of my own inadequacy. I was terrified. Would I still be able to handle discipline, juggle all the paper work, update my technology skills, meet individual needs? Could I inspire my new students with a love of learning? I didn’t know.
Yet, as I communed with this tiny creature whose wings were spreading out like fans, splitting the sun’s rays into brilliant pastels, I had the sensation that I was receiving some kind of insight. An intimate unveiling was in the breeze and it seemed to whisper, “Breathe.” I did. Then I inhaled again and smiled on the out-breath. It felt soothing, this “belonging-in- the-moment” way of navigating the front yard. I let the peacefulness calm my entire body. “Nice,” I thought. “I need to breathe more often.”
My little insect companion who’d spent 17 years of life underground had no choice but to be in the “now”. That long swath of time was imbedded into his DNA, and now, that part of who or what he was had ended. He had lived in a carcass designed to die and yet there he was flapping paper thin wings that would take him to his mate. I pondered this brief, intimate encounter, thinking of the new classroom I would be entering in the fall and hoping I was ready for the challenge.
Later that afternoon, Zest came stomping through the screen door and that same Invisible Bard, the Dancer of Great Mystery, spoke to me again, this time wrapped in the voices of innocence. Brad had ushered the neighborhood gang into the living room where they plopped their red-faced, sweaty bodies onto the carpet.
“Hi, Mrs. Walker!” Cathy was first to speak, followed by the others. “Can we see the bug videos?”
“What!” I asked in astonishment.
“The bug videos. Brad said you took movies of this big bug on your tree out front.”
“Yea,” Ronnie chimed in. “Can we watch it?”
Now, by that time, I had already watched the ungodly production. My respect for David Attenborough had grown exponentially, frame by frame, as jerky scenes of this filial creature juxtaposed against a telephone-wired sky, and some shadowy views of the grass and dirt at my feet, had bored me to tears. I didn’t do justice to the little insect on his debut performance.
“Oh,” I apologized, “I’m afraid the video didn’t turn out too well. I think you’d be kind-of bored.” I couldn’t believe what was happening! Brad and Amy had told the whole neighborhood about the bug and they were all spellbound.
Then, Amy, who had been reading on the couch, threw the winning pitch. “Oh, come on, Mom. We want to see it!”
My kids had become interested in spite of themselves and I had uncovered an illuminating truth. Had that tiny creature not been pushed a bit by Mother Nature to rid itself from the past, (a past with which it might have been quite content) it would never have experienced the bliss of flight.
We watched the film in fast forward, which made it do-able, and followed with a cookie and lemonade discussion about bugs, spiders and snakes. Oh, was I in my glory! Those precious kids had so much they wanted to share and they had come to the right place for I was, if nothing else, a listener. I realized then that even though classroom technologies and logistics would have changed drastically over the years, and those dreaded committee meetings would still rob me of time better spent in the classroom, children were still children. And, oh, how I loved them!
Mr. Pat Burns, the official community flora and fauna expert informed us that the cicada molts many times over a period of years and that each year, some cicadas do reach full size. We headed to the library to learn more about the little creature whose empty shell of a former life now resides in a jar in our son’s room. Amy made several sketches of the visitor and both continued to get out the boring video when they thought I wasn’t watching.
And me? I am still breathing, am becoming more conscious of each breath and I realize that perfection is not the goal. I want to be real; worn, faded “Velveteen Rabbit” real. There are invisible laws in the cosmic realm that order the balance of nature, laws that even I must be subject to because I too, am a creature of the natural world, yet unlike other life forms, we humans are conscious of the fact that we are conscious and therefore each of us is free to choose when and how quickly our interior lives evolve. I parted ways with my fear of failure that day. Its foolishness flew away like a sulking buzzard searching for road-kill and though I’ve been defeated again and again and again, Failure and I have become quite good friends. Perhaps she has been my greatest teacher.