"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Sunday, July 22, 2007

a fondness for small things

i love all things small. things that fit into a pocket, things i can hold in my hands, little animals and small children. i love apricots just because i feel like i'm eating a tiny peach.

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i went for a walk today after dinner, and noticed - for the first time in a long time - the blinking of fireflies. and, for the first time i can remember since childhood, i cupped my hands to hold one. as i slowly unfolded my fingers, it climbed to the tip of my forefinger, perching on my metallic blue nail, and i was reminded of my fondness for small things.

i remember a childhood filled with fireflies. the first time i ever caught one, my family had gone out to a large building on the UK campus that i've always thought of as "The Barn," a white rectangular building across from the football stadium parking lot that really looks as if the second floor used to be a hay loft. the interior of the building was basically one continuous room with linoleum floors and a few poles to help hold up the roof. it was perfect for potlucks, and that's exactly what brought my family and the other 40 families of the Chinese School together that night. me and the other 45+ kids were rapidly consuming sugar and the excitement of so much company, and as the parents started up the karaoke machine, we all escaped outside.

the best part about The Barn wasn't the ex-loft, or the foosball table, or the interior that would have made a perfect indoor roller skating rink had someone with the proper resources and foresight discovered it. no, the best thing about The Barn was it's Barn-like yard. to a small elementary schooler, the block of uninterrupted grass skirted by trees was all we needed to feel free and alive. you could play tag, hide and seek (the unmowed grass was enough to conceal most of us), and Red Rover. and, in the later hours, when the summer humidity had begun to settle into a fine dew, there they would appear - the fireflies.


it was like being out in the country and finding yourself amongst the star-lit sky. only you could hold this fire in your hands. all 46+ of us stood in wonder of this blinking light, following one or two spots with our eyes, to have them disappear and reappear another inch away. my Father came out to check on us kids, showed me how to get close enough to extend my hand, a small globe for them to land.

i remember nights at home after a summer rain, when the lightning bugs would come out to drink the remaining droplets from the leaves. my brother and i would follow them out, catching them in our hands, picking our favorite pairs and sliding them gently into empty jam jars we'd specially decorate for them with leaves, twigs and grass sprinkled with sugar water. my brother and i would sleep contentedly in our beds those nights, foregoing our ubiquitous nightlights for the soft friendly glow of fireflies in empty jars. sometimes we'd wake up the next morning to find them sick or languid, their little antennae drooping behind glass. sometimes we'd keep them too long and become distressed at having extinguished such gentle light. (it wouldn't take us long to find that one night sleeping over in our bedrooms was enough for them. we soon adopted a one-night-only policy.)

summers for me have always meant only a handful of things: summer camps, swimming in the neighborhood pool just before dinner, bike rides with my family, barbeque on Sunday nights, and lightning bugs at night.

tonight, as i walk in my neighborhood, the lightning bug twirling around on the tip of my metallic fingernail, i remember my life measured in these smallest of degrees. seconds open up and reveal spools of memories wrapped inside, now long enough to fit all the years between the then and now, to collapse whole stages of my life inside one second, the blink of a firefly.

the last time i ever held a firefly in my hands was at a sleepover at my friend Meredith's house, on the cusp between Montessori elementary school and public middle school, a late midsummer night separating harmless childhood candidness from the guarded moodiness of early adolescence. it was the day i got my braces, the first time my friends and i, all crammed together in the basement of my friend's house, watch an R-rated movie without our parents (Stigmata, it was ok), and the first time i ever stayed up all night (it was also the first night back from vacation in Hawaii with my family, which gives me jet lag and a time difference of -5 hours, which makes it impossible to sleep). it was the first and last time i ever played pranks on my friends, and the last time i ever catch fireflies.

playing in my friend's backyard after pizza and ice cream, i find a lightning bug. i pick it up, and prepare to plop it into a disposable plastic soda cup that i'm already beginning to prepare with foraged foliage, when i notice his lethargic demeanor. he seemed ill, devoid of a will to live, would probably die even before spending a night in the cup. knowing nothing about lightning bug biology or remedies, but possessing a strong fondness for small things (and at this time, a still strong desire to become a veterinarian), i held the ailing lightning bug in one hand, while gently petting him on his wings with the tip of my smallest finger. i noticed a weak bulb and tried to offer verbal support, thinking it a matter of self-esteem. i offer him droplets of water on grass blades, and walk him around the yard, extending my palm so he can take a look around. i do this for probably 15 minutes (but again, the seconds have opened up to reveal whole decades, and my firefly and i have spent what feels like a significant part of our lives together) when i notice a flicker of light, a liveliness to the antennae, and a willful effort to fly. feeling i have just saved a life, i return inside, leaving Patrick (as i call him) on the ledge, free of the cup.

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now, as i watch my new lightning bug perform pirouettes on my fingertip, and traverse the knuckles on my hand, i relive my childhood in the infiniteness of a few seconds, reminded of a fondness for small things.

and as i step onto my driveway, the firefly takes off, into the night sky...

3 comments:

Rae Jin Devine said...

Very nice entry Miss Lee.

I get the same sort of experience firing up an old video game.

I miss my brother.

Brian said...

I miss fireflies. Thanks for the journey back in time.

Rae Jin Devine said...

Senior Project is an exercise in discovering how little you know. If I were Alysia Fischer, I would've failed me. Luckily, she is far more patient and forgiving. I'm still working on just getting a start...

I leave for Korea on August 22 barring any mishaps. Meanwhile, along with SenProj, I'm interning with the Oxford Press and archiving poetry for Laura Mandell.

I'm hoping to - somehow... - make it to La Manada. I really want to see you all/the new students before I leave.