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Summer was winding down into those last, slow weeks when time matters less. Box fans sat propping up farmhouse windows with a hypnotic rattle, beating sweat across the backs of the sleepers. Bed sheets had been tossed to the side an hour before, legs were separated from one another, all thoughts were cast down deep into dreams while sheet tops fluttered like the water tips, caught up in an electric breeze.
I was standing out back underneath the security light, holding a butterfly net handmade from an old broom stick, a coat hanger, and thin pillowcase. A thousand feathered moths tossed in a mad, silent fury. They looked like tiny women wearing grey fox coats. There were beetles, too, slapping and knocking into things. Beetles fly as if they are blind; they are hard as tanks and can bear the risk. I have looked close into the faces of a thousand of their kind, and not once have I seen any hint of compassion.
On the far edge of the cast light circle, a luna moth spread her wings in the grass. She was perfect, new waked from the gel of her pupation. Adjectives come, but I cannot seem to force them together. She is seaglass. Dew frost. Ballet shoes. Audrey Hepburn. Rivendell. Powdered sugar. The ankles of her soft wing tails crossed so prettily at the ends.
When the prophets of old caught sight of interdimensionality, the vision transposed broken to the point of absurdity at times. Perhaps this is what perfect beauty does. Words are powerful, but they cannot catch what will not be wholly caught.
It is impossible to find a luna moth and not feel as if you have crossed paths with a fairy. Cecropia moths are mighty, angry as Thor; and the polyphemus moths are doe-eyed and shy. Lunas are transcendent, lumious as grace.
I had raised enough larvae to know that some number of days ago this had been a fat, crawling thing. Is instinct some animal parallel to faith? Was a choice made to yield that green order to the pulpy chaos that turns inside a cocoon? Perhaps it was only a chemical process. Or perhaps that terrible beast did not love her present self too much to resign her mouth, her skin, her organs, her every known impulse and nerve to liquification. Perhaps she was brave enough to reach the end of her consumptive glory and walk then into reduction, even into a soup of her own proteins, trusting that a resurrection would come. Is all of nature but man willing to be unmade?
I could have caught her if I had wanted to. I had been doing it for years. I knew how to hold the tip of that net between my thumb and first finger while the mouth of it dropped, how to wait while she flew up into the end, then snap it shut. I knew how to hold the fabric up and let the light shine through to make her shadow, how to reach my hand down and shut those panicked wings, how to stun her by gently pinching her thorax. I knew how to fold her up in an envelope. I knew how long it would take for the poison in the jar to kill her.
In two days, I could pull her body out of those fumes. Like most primal hunters, I would be reverent.
Some Native Americans would honor the spirits of their slain, and I believe this is a natural tendency for the man who has taken a life from the wild. To pin an insect properly is a hushed thing, very nearly an act of love. I would use tiny black pins to balance her antennae. How perfectly even they were! There would be hooks on the ends of her soft, red front feet, and these would catch the edge of a pin. I could use those hooks to pull her legs forward and out. I would cross two pins each to hold them there. Then I would slide thin, long strips of paper between her wings and carefully pull those down, holding my breath so as not to blow off any scales. Delicately I would lift the top left wing, then the right. Adjusting. Stabilizing. To do the work well, it would take ten minutes or fifteen, but by restraint and intent I could make every every wet joint find symmetry. Fixing and propping, sticking twenty pins around her tissues, crossing pins below to lift the fat of her abdomen, I would make her look alive, and that is how she would dry. In a week, all pins but the tiny prop in her thorax would be removed.
She would be glorious. The children at the fair would gasp and point, “Look, Mama! Look!”
I knew how to do all of this, but I didn’t. I just knelt down in the grass and watched her.
To be alive is so delicate a thing. There are men and women who bash through their given number of days recklessly, crashing into one another like armored beetles. I cannot quite seem to master it.
2013 was the year of my coming to a protein soup. I did not go willingly. Faith, future, and friends have dissolved, and I have been made to sit in the company of some of the most difficult questions I have ever been asked. What a grace it must be to have a cocoon. I have envied the luna moth her covering.
Is there ever much place to hide but inside ourselves? The masses tend to pass the hurting like they would pass a car wreck, curious and shielding their eyes. They look into bent metal and impact, scanning for blood and for bodies, cursing the delay. They look for carnage, knowing how tearing is ugly; then they shiver and gasp when they find that it is.
And we are such bare things, after all. We have been set down upon the earth with so little between us and this planet, and we do not like to be reminded of that much.
This year I have learned that it is common courtesy to mimic life while waiting for life to come to us. For not only have we no covering, we are also expected to be proper specimens during our season of exposure. Our antennae are to be set pretty and our legs outstretched properly. We are to adopt the symmetry of flight.
I don’t know what to make of that expectation. When my father had his heart surgery a few months ago, there were signs hanging in the hospital hallways asking that visitors walking along the corridors not look into the rooms as they pass. I was shocked that the request needed to be made at all. When a body has been cut open so that a heart might be reworked, friends should speak softly, sitting in close chairs near the bed, and strangers should not stare at all. Those who have the strength to walk unassisted should be tender with those who do not.
A patient should be brave, of course. However, it is also true that bravery twisted into bravado is not kindness at all, but something proud and dishonest. Part of a patient's responsibility is understand that pain is indicative. It means action needs to be taken.
So, it is strange and difficult to know quite what to do when you are broken. Mostly, healing is messy. There is no good way to get around that.
Lately I am reading _The Screwtape Letters._ It has been mighty good company to hear that the rejection of man can be permitted from the Father’s love and not His dismissal. And in the dissolving of everything, it is good to be reminded that an invisible needle points ever toward trust and praise.
There is certainly not nothing to be doing in our undoing. Even as we are come to gel, our fibers are pulled by God like iron filings to order. In the beginning, God hovered over the chaos of all my waters and said, “Let there be obedience, Love.” What a war that has been.
The demon voice Lewis created wrote, “our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Oh, God. My God, have you forsaken me? My voice shakes, but I will chose You as the strength comes to me. I will chose You, I will chose you, I will chose you, and on weak days I will not chose You, because I am not quite grown solid yet. Lord have mercy, for I am all proteins unworked, and waiting, and bareness. If this flutter of my will could chose You once forever, I would throw myself into that fire fast and be done with chosing.
How I ache for the emergence! How I ache for the rise of slow, hot summer nights, fluttering about the light not thinking inward or backward all, simply trusting, being, worshiping, wings stretched full out.
I needn’t even be glorious as a luna. A little fox grey moth would be good enough. May this be the year for it.