On Mosquitoes, Jet Planes, and Lightning Bugs
Most of the Saturdays, and some of the Sundays, in the summers of my childhood, found my sister and me piling into the backseat of a car and traveling what I considered a great distance to visit my grandparents. What I considered a great distance in those days, was any time spent longer than it took to get further than the ball park where I played little league baseball. It was not a day trip. It did not require a restroom break. But, in my mind as a child, at 45 minutes, it was as far as what I considered to be the end of the earth. The hugs, the offerings of Pepsi, and the love that lived there, made it worth every exaggerated minute.
These were my father’s parents. They lived on farm land. There were horses, June bugs, cattle, garden fresh vegetables and cooking that was different from any other I had experienced, and as it turns out, different that anything I have had to this day. I do not know what they struggled with in those days. I do not know what helped them make it through life. The only time I sat with my grandfather in a church service was later in my life while at his funeral. They had values that they instilled in me, but never that they preached to me. They lived the kind of life that was filled with love and service. The kind of love and service you heard about from others, but never them.
Though it was farm land, and though it was not near a lot of other houses, it was near an airport. They had grown used to the noise of the planes that made its way to and from the property near their house. What I heard as rumbles similar to thunder, they heard as a bass line in a Roy Clark song played on Hee Haw and never flinched as a plane made a final descent to the strip of asphalt near their home. They, by the way, lived there before the airport was built. But it was there that I learned the all-important lesson of the mosquito, the jet plane, and the lightning bug.
While walking through the garden at dusk with my grandfather, being careful to stay in the row of plowed dirt that was not filled with plants, my body jerked every so often as I was compelled to swat at a mosquito that had landed on my exposed skin (I was dressed in shorts and a tank top for fun at Papaw and Mamaw’s house, not gardening). I followed behind my grandfather as he surveyed the progress the vegetables were making like a puppy following a butcher walking home for the day. He did not say much when he was in the garden, but when he did speak, it was always worth hearing.
He asked me to pick out a turnip from the ground as he pulled out his worn out, but nonetheless, favorite, pocket knife. I considered this a great honor and responsibility. As he peeled the turnip slowly, taking bites off the blade and offering me bits in the same manner, he shared wisdom that I remember to this day. “Kevin”, he said, “there are two types of people in this world. It is important that you decide which one you want to be”.
“The first person is like the mosquito you keep slapping. They are small. They are insignificant. But they take your attention away from everything you were thinking and doing at the time, and demand your attention. They offer you nothing in return for what they want and are only using you for your blood. When they buzz in your ear, all you have is fear and a feeling of being annoyed that they are near, but you stop what you are doing, and swat them away (He also offered something about how they fit well into the entirety of creation).
Always offer something in return for anything you are asking of another”.
“The second person is like those jet planes flying over the barn. They seem like great things with great importance as they come and go, but after a while, you get used to them. They may be important or they may not be important. But in the end, it was only the racket they made when they entered or left your life that you remember. It is hard to appreciate them for what they are truly worth because of all the noise they surround themselves with. There are a lot of jet airplanes, all impressed with the noise they can make when wanting to share a thing with you.
Sometimes the way you say something, not how important it is, matters”.
After a turnip or two, or three, and when the sun had just fallen behind the Smoky Mountains, my grandfather paused. I could see that he seemed troubled by what he had just shared. It was as if he felt he might have shared this information with me too soon in my journey through life. It was if he wanted me, somehow, to continue to think that everyone was good in some way and these two examples left little room for the basic goodness of humanity. Maybe he had a hard day. Maybe even grandfathers have hard days.
It was my custom when I spent the night there, always to ask for a Mason jar that had holes in the lid. Always at sunset. Every night. Every summer. It was such a ritual that eventually, I did not have to ask. My grandmother had it sitting by the door every evening after washing it every morning. I used it to hold the lightning bugs I caught each night. You may call them fireflies or you may call them glow worms. We can disagree on anything from whether an apple is red, to whether there is a Creator and whose nature is ultimately good, but on this point I cannot budge. They are lightning bugs.
He noticed, my noticing, a lighting bug light up and fade just beyond my reach. Before I could ask if I could get the Mason jar, he put his hand on my shoulder and a knowing smile formed on his face. It was as if his next piece of advice, most likely new to him, as well, also gave him some comfort. His grip got just a little tighter and he pulled me in for a light hug.
“There is also a third type of person. They are like a lightning bug. They glow with something from inside themselves. They neither demand attention or ask for anything, but people are drawn to them. Children and intelligent adults follow the drops of light they leave in the night and try to possess what makes them special. They are beacons of goodness and testaments to miracles. With each pulse of light, God is saying what only those that are willing can hear”.
Leave drops of light in the night sky of your life that speak to others. Not so you can be heard, but so they might hear another voice.
When my son wants to “look for lightning bugs”, I smile. When I look into the woods behind my house and see hundreds of lightning bugs, all shining, all glowing and oozing with the miraculous, I smile. I wonder if I have left, not a mark, or an impression, but just a flash of goodness to be seen. It seems to me that most people, myself included, remember their teachers more than they remember the lessons they were taught. They may remember a particular gift, rather than the place of grace that it was given from. Our hope is planted in the drips of grace and love that we leave on the night sky of the world. The hope is that the drips of grace and love we leave, we will find when we are in need. Without regard for who left them there.
There are merits to mosquitoes and jet planes. There is a lesson for me in lightning bugs. It is that we shine, regardless of the audience. It is that we find light in others. It is that, while we might consider others to be mosquitoes or jet planes, we would do well to consider the lightning bug in others. If you knew your own worth, you would better be able to see the worth in every creature on earth. You are a miracle. You have a light. You are a lightning bug.
In my selfishness, I would ask that if you enjoyed this story, you would use one of the buttons below to share with your friends. In my “grandfatherly advice” way, I would ask that you share some simple kindness, some affording of undeserved grace, or an act of love in a seemingly loveless situation. It is in this way you may prove to yourself that it is truly in giving what we desire, that we receive what we desire.