Like fireflies

I don’t think I’ve ever told you about the fireflies. Now, here in the middle of a pandemic, seems like absolutely the right time.
Before I tell you the story, I want to take a moment to repeat a truth that, while being said a lot these days, can never be said too much:

Even when you’re by yourself, you’re not alone.

The corniness of that sentiment might make me squirm a bit under normal circumstances, but over the past week, it has served as a soothing mantra.

So much of what we’re each experiencing—our thoughts, anxieties, hopes—are shared. Nothing illustrates that collective mental hum quite as well as a specific family of lightning bug.

I’ve loved the fireflies, or at least the idea of them, ever since I learned of their existence from a Radiolab episode on emergence I first heard too many years ago.

What a feeling it must be to drift down a river at night and watch the world pulse in one electric heartbeat.

In the episode, there’s a story about a pair of scientists (husband and wife, I believe) who study a special breed of firefly that only lives a few places in the world. You can find them in small numbers in random pockets of the U.S., but in the mangrove forests of Thailand, they buzz in abundance.

The magical thing about these fireflies is that, like birds or schools of fish or colonies of ants, they seem to all be connected by one communal voice, operating in sync of the others. They all pulse with light at the same time, every time.

They’re on, they’re off. On, off. On, off.

In the story, the scientists raft through one of these mangrove forests in the middle of the night, looking to the tops of the trees along the banks, which are thick with thrumming life. And as they roll along, they watch the trees around them flush with bioluminescence and then turn off, all at once, in unison.

On, off. On, off. Like a gentle, giant strobe light.

I love that story. One day, I plan on repeating the experiment. What a feeling it must be to drift down a river at night and watch the world pulse in one electric heartbeat.

These days, we’re the fireflies. Separate, yes, walled apart in cocoons spun from necessity, but still humming as one—thinking and worrying about and hoping for so many of the same things. We have each other, even from afar, and we’ll make it through.

After all, fireflies are at their best in the dark.

fireflies
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—Christie
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