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I recently had the pleasure of witnessing fireflies for the first time.
It was dusk, and my partner and I were arriving home from picking him up from work. I looked out at the catalpa tree and scanned the edge of the yard, where it drops off into the dark forest, and saw these lights faintly blinking, moving, dancing. They looked like sparks carried on the breeze from an unseen fire.
“Are those fireflies?” I said, grabbing his arm. He nodded. I pulled him out to the grass, beneath the tree, where I followed them around transfixed and giddy.
“The females wait in the grass while the males fly overhead, blinking,” he explained. “When a female blinks back, he flies down to be with her.”
Something about fireflies, sending their lights out as signals in the expansive dark to find someone to be with, stuck with me.
I’ve since learned that light pollution is one of the biggest threats to the continued existence of fireflies on the planet. We are rapidly losing darkness. Fireflies are losing the backdrop against which to illuminate their sparks of communication.
In a world of paved roads running through what once was habitat, the headlights of cars interrupt these blinking conversations. The signal is lost and the fireflies keep hovering in the grass and circling the sky—missing each other.
There is a resonant tragedy in this story.
How often are we blinking our lights at each other, only for our signals to be flooded from external sources? A pandemic with no end in sight. Too many hours worked in order to survive, or not enough work available to continue getting by. The incessant chatter of social media. Rapidly dissolving political climate. Natural disasters, protests, police brutality, illness, restricted social engagement.
It is a never-ending floodlight from incoming traffic.
And then, there are the lights flooding us from internal sources. The emotional triggers from traumatic childhoods or past relationships. The brain’s high beams, shining years of programming straight in our eyes, preventing us from seeing who or what is signaling us from down below. Beliefs that no longer serve us, or never did. Patterns we’ve slipped into that become hard to untangle in those moments we desperately want to reach out and connect with another.
We may long for a place where we can slip away, against a true-dark night sky, and blink our tiny lights without interruption. Without confusion. Where we can see a light below, responding with its spark, and meet each other without obstacle.
I know I do.
These fireflies and their plight strike a chord in me that is both conservation-driven and deeply personal. Their survival is also my survival, in more ways than one.
Having left my marriage of eight years only a few months ago and daring to start something new with someone else, I am increasingly aware of how much energy it takes to balance the work of an ending and a beginning at the same time. It’s a downright precarious position at times, but it’s one I chose.
I chose it on one of those rare, startling nights of the soul when the dark was crisp and clear and I could see two lights blinking up at me. One belonged to me and one was this other person’s. Both sparks were what I ultimately needed to fly away—toward myself and toward another—to pursue more gratifying connections.
Since then, it feels like I’m living alongside a highway, learning to communicate against a backdrop of headlights. Learning to find my way back to the core of who I am. Learning to find my way toward another person, navigating a host of external and internal floodlights in both of our lives. Sometimes, landing safely beside each other on the first attempt. Oftentimes, landing with some bumps after a series of aerial gymnastics.
In this world of less-than-dark, how can we draw from the story of fireflies to nurture our own love connections?
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. We must learn to get creative with our communication.
If one way of communication doesn’t facilitate understanding, pick a different way. Our way of communicating doesn’t have to be “wrong” or “bad” for it to not work well with another person; they just may need a different method. Something may be getting in the way.
Let’s try not to take this personally. Instead, we can maintain a willingness to keep experimenting with what works with the person we’re wanting to engage with more deeply.
2. We must be persistent in blinking our lights for the other.
We live in a world that presents us with numerous obstacles, including the ones we have within ourselves that remain in need of healing or transformation. Rather than expecting things to be easy, we may need our expectations to evolve in order to give generous space for challenges, discomfort, and growth (and, of course, this is within the spectrum of healthy interactions—not abuse).
And for the love of god, let’s keep our lights blinking, especially when it’s hard.
3. We must rise above discouragement and fatigue.
All this work, at times, of staying meaningfully connected with ourselves and others, can be fatiguing. We can become discouraged about the fact that it requires more effort than we thought, or perhaps, more than we always feel we have available to give.
Can we give ourselves (and others) permission to feel whatever arises, while also not letting this talk us out of doing the work? Fatigue and discouragement can exist without canceling out the value or potential of the connection. What if we saw this as an invitation to deeper self-tending?
4. We must believe in the worthiness of the work.
If we’re going to continue investing our efforts in building meaningful connections with others, we’ve got to be grounded in our why. Why is this worthy of our time, energy, work? If we can’t answer that why, or the why has changed, it may be time for us to reevaluate and shift direction.
If we are clear on our why, we may stay the course and have faith that the work we’re doing is valuable in and of itself. Regardless of the lifespan of the relationship, the work is worthwhile if we can come away with a deeper understanding of ourselves and someone else, and maybe even collaborate in each other’s healing process along the way.
5. We must be willing to untangle ourselves from beliefs that no longer serve us.
One of the beliefs I’m untangling myself from centers around commitment. I have both viewed and experienced being in a committed romantic partnership as a losing of myself; a deprivation of my needs; a resignation to make myself fit within a relationship regardless of how small I must make myself to do so. As a result, I have more fear than I realized around commitment—it’s too absolute.
I am learning to reaffirm, over and over, this truth: the only one I need to be absolutely committed to is myself. I am committed to no longer allowing myself to languish in smallness or lack for the sake of another. I am learning, too, that I can be committed to giving my best—in this moment—to the relationship I’m investing in. I can be committed and still hold it loosely, as one would cup a firefly and release them.
The more I do this work of untangling, the freer I am to show up in the moment with everything I have.
6. We must celebrate the moments of intimate connection.
Whether we successfully navigate the bumpy patches to an intimate moment, or we find our ways to these moments with ease, they are all worthy of celebration. Every moment of true connection is beautiful, no matter how “easy” or “hard” it was to arrive there. Intimacy—emotional, physical, spiritual—is sacred. When we can recognize these moments as the gifts they are, free and without entitlement, we are more nurtured to continue blinking our lights in the world.
We need fireflies to continue thriving, blinking hope in the night sky. And so also, the world needs our lights not to disappear from each other.
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