Fireflies and everyday magic

Last Shabbat, one of my rabbis addressed the pervasive unease that seems to infect just about everyone we know. The feeling of not-quite-rightness, of doubt, even of fear, that haunts so many of us. It’s not just about politics, although of course it’s also about politics. It’s about the profoundly unsettling feeling that comes from realizing that solid ground is not solid, that things we thought we knew are not true, probably weren’t true all along, and that as impossible as it ever is to predict the future, now we can’t even pretend to know.

It’s remarkably unsettling.

Take care of yourself, he said. Each one of you should take care of yourself. Do whatever social advocacy or social justice work you feel impelled to do, but also take care of yourself.

It sounded awfully pabulum-y, but still it stuck with me, because he was right.

It’s been very hot this week. That’s a change (and unsettling in itself, even though we know that of course seasons change, and it’s been so cool and so wet for so long that some ridiculously steamy heat had to be coming).

I take care of myself by walking, so I did.

I’ve been taking my dogs out at twilight, when the colors change and the close humid sky gets more velvety and the shadows not only lengthen but get very fuzzy around their edges.

And as I’ve walked — in the city, in the suburbs, in parks, wherever there are cement-free patches of ground — I’ve seen tiny flickers of light.


When they’re not lighting up, they’re hideous, grotesque bugs. But when you walk at dusk, and you start to see little flashes of colored light, and at first you think it’s your eyes, and then you think great, now I’m hallucinating, and then you start to see more and more of them, little bursts of light that never seen to illuminate when you’re looking directly at them, but always go off just to the side of your field of vision, until the patch of grass is sparkling with lights, little miniature Fourth of July skies come to earth.

I don’t know why that happens. It must have something to do with the heat and the moisture, although I am profoundly not a scientist, so I have no idea how it works.

I also know that it must be a metaphor, and the obvious ones are, well, obvious, and who wants that? But to stand there in the growing dark, watching these lights burst into being and glow and move and then extinguish, seeing more and more of them as your eyes and your spirit adjust yourself to them — it’s magic.

Just plain magic.

I am not suggesting that regular old fireflies, and the everyday magic they perform at dusk on hot summer nights, will help us heal the divisions we face, both as Americans and as Jews. That would be far too easy.

But I do think that there is everyday magic all around us, and getting the chance to see it, being able to stand at the edge of a field of fireflies, is healing.

I hope that each one of us gets to see fireflies dance.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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