Each year I am happily surprised by the pulsing galaxy of fireflies strung throughout our yard and seaming the valley below and also regularly moved to write it up in some form or another. That is all well and good and artistically obvious, but what about the bug that blinked at me just last week, so far behind the original flash mob I was surprised all over again? The outlier: there’s your story.
It was the usual setting: I was crossing the yard come nighttime to secure the chicken coop. I enjoy the martial import of the verb “secure” but in fact it’s just me stumbling over mole hills in the dark while wearing rubber sandals (can’t name them until the endorsement deal is finalized) (negotiations ongoing and completely one-sided in that the other party is uninvolved and unaware) at the end of a day that was — if standard standards were met — likely 10 percent progress, 20 percent failure, 15 percent lost to general waffling, 50 percent put off ‘til tomorrow, and the remainder scrubbed from memory. More often than not, dropping the tiny door that keeps the chickens weasel-free is the most decisive move I make all day.
In other words, it is unlikely I was in a reflective or ruminative state of mind when the solo insect flickered yellow-green from the weeds alongside the pole barn, and perhaps it was thus all the more surprising; all the more bracing. It is possible — in the mind-fog of all the things left unfinished at close of day, of the health insurance premium due, of not wishing to catch a toe and face-plant among the burdock, of early June having become late August — I had forgotten that they even existed. It happens.
What is it like to be a firefly late to the firefly parade? Surely it diminishes your opportunities for love. How dark it must seem, just you weakly winking with nothing but the cold universe of stars as witness and them ice blue and staring, no rhythm at all. On the upside, you stand out from the crowd, the crowd having gone dark. There is also the distinction (before your extinction) of delivering the final blink of the year. You are the last to flash. It is your light that will linger in the mind of those least expecting you.
But: The outlier life is rarely easy. Last night my wife and I viewed comedian Hannah Gadsby’s show “Nanette,” which, if you’ve watched it, you know takes a turn midway through, shifting from humor to … well, you’ll need to see for yourself. It ain’t comfortable, I’ll tell you that. Nor is it intended to be, nor should it be. In retrospect I can draw parallels to the lightning bug arc. At first, a flurry of chuckles. Then a thinning out. And then nothing funny at all. Just darkness. And then, at the end — in Gadsby’s refusal to give into anger although given every right — a concluding flash of hope. Of love. Even as she refuses to let me off the hook. Even as the light of the last firefly cannot warm away the coming winter.
The common denominator here lies in the power of the outlier speaking out. Streaming a comedy special in search of a laugh, I was drawn to examine my conscience. Crossing the yard expecting nothing but darkness, I saw light.