Fireflies and Fear

It’s summer, which means vacations and seeing family and lazy mornings for my kids. After traveling for 19 days straight this month, the boys and I have logged some serious hours this week wearing our pajamas all day and reading for hours on end, breaking only to eat or go swimming. 

Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

One of the books we’re reading together is Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee. I picked up a signed copy at a writer’s conference I attended recently and thought it would be the perfect summer bedtime book for my animal-loving seven-year-old. (If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of McGhee’s picture book Someday. I dare you to read it without getting cloudy with a chance of eye rain.)

A couple of days ago, we snuggled into a giant pallet of pillows and blankets in the playroom and started reading. I was only about six pages into the story when Will interrupted and said, “I bet there are hundreds of stories like this in the world.” 

Confused by his seemingly critical comment, I said, “What do you mean?”

The story opens with a description of one of the main characters, Firefly, who is part of Firefly nation (we meet Cricket and Vole later in the book, both part of their respective nations). In the firefly nation, young fireflies go to school and learn to recite the three Fundamental Rules of Giants: 1) Giant are to be feared, 2) Giants are the enemy of firefly nation, and 3) Giants are to be avoided at all costs.

After a short pause, Will said, “This is one of those stories about how people are afraid of something, so they spend all their time being afraid, and in the end we’re going to find out that it was dumb for them to be afraid.”

Ben added, “Except in this book, it’s fireflies instead of people.”

“Right.” I took a moment to think about my response. “Why do you think so many authors write stories like this?”

Without skipping a beat, Will answered, “I think it’s easier to use fiction and fantasy to talk about the world’s messed up problems. About how everyone is just walking around afraid of stuff because people are different or because we don’t know each other.”

Ben said, “But in these stories, there’s always one firefly or person or whatever who isn’t afraid.”

FULL STOP.

Look, here’s the deal—I spend a lot of time telling funny stories about my kids in real life and on social media. Sometimes I wish I could have a video running to capture these moments to replay later because I need them. Badly. 

I am someone who is deeply affected by the big picture stuff—headlines about terror attacks, child abuse and neglect, and general inhumanity seem to flood my feed, and I have a really hard time disconnecting in a healthy way. I don’t mean shutting it out to pretend it’s not there—I would never suggest that as a reaction to pain. I mean that I have a hard time keeping these things from affecting me emotionally and psychologically. I don't have whatever coping mechanism is required to separate the pain of other people from my own. And I don’t really think I want to. Because what bothers me almost as much as the violence and hate is the reaction we seem to have every time something tragic happens. We’re stuck in this outrage/apathy cycle. We’re mad and sad, and seconds later we analyze the hell out of the tragedy before we’ve even had time to lament, and the next morning we turn the tragedy into memes.

I want off the ride.

I wholeheartedly believe in the words “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Those lyrics have become a mantra for me every time something horrific happens. Instead of engaging in the useless cycle of keyboard wars, I meditate on those words.

I cannot stop terrorism. I cannot stop mass shootings. I cannot stop rapists. I cannot stop bigotry and xenophobia and sexism. I cannot control the actions of crazy, hateful people. I cannot protect myself or my family from those crazy, hateful people.

But I can focus on my tiny heart and the tiny hearts in my home. I can love and serve and protect my children in ways that keep them from becoming those crazy, hateful people. 

So.

We read books.  We read fictional books about brave fireflies who aren’t afraid of giants, crickets who long to know what’s beyond their tiny corner of the forest, and voles who are looking for the courage to do new things. (We’ve only read four chapters, but I think I can safely recommend this book to anyone looking for something to read as a family.)

And then I post about the wisdom that flows effortlessly from my children’s mouths. I post the funny things, the insightful things, the shocking and thought-provoking things because I refuse to believe that violence and hate have the last word. To use a hashtaggable phrase, the kids are all right.

It’s summer, my favorite time of year—warm nights, lemonade and popsicles, and the appearance every night of hundreds of fireflies in the yard, each one of them a reminder to 

BE

NOT

AFRAID.