Moth provides lesson carried through life
Night was the time to catch the large moths, strange and beautiful creatures as rare as the cabbage butterfly was common. But her parents did not allow her out after dark. It wasn’t because she was in the 5th grade. She was a girl. When she went away from home that summer, she traded long afternoons in the fields for camp, where time was parceled in tidy packages sealed at each end with bells. Bells told you when to wake, dress, wash, eat, swim and sleep.
The first night, the girls in her cabin were herded into the brightly lit washhouse to prepare for bed. She reached to turn on the water, then stopped. She almost hadn’t seen it. On the faucet was a luna. It looked soft and fragile, as if it had been made of tissue covered with emerald dust. The picture in the butterfly book had shown the fore wings edged in pale lavender. These were outlined in regal purple.
The noise around her was muffled by the sound in her ears, the sound of blood rising and pounding. Her first thought was of Johnny – Johnny with his sixth-grade wisdom. If he were here, he would know what to do. The only days when time didn’t race away had been those summer afternoons spent in the fields with Johnny.
All she had to do was to drop the net on the luna moth so as not to injure the perfect wings, then close the opening, but she had no net, only a toothbrush and a cup. The cup was too small. It would only shred the delicate wings. When the sun had been low, and she and Johnny were hot from chasing butterflies, they would throw down their nets and lie side by side to let their faces cool. They would talk of mourning cloaks, tiger swallowtails and moths, of butterflies they had caught, placed on mounting boards and set perfectly in cotton backed display cases.
She liked it best when he told her things he had never shared with others. He spoke slowly, always with his eyes shut. I’ll go to the university, he said, and when I’m finished, I’ll know all there is to know about butterflies, and then, I’ll go on expeditions all over the world. And someday, I’ll bring back a butterfly no one has ever caught before.
Her dreams were less grand. Grow up and marry someone like her father who worked every day in the same place. She would have babies, dust and bake and do things like that. But now, she wanted something for herself. She dreamed of possessing the pale green beauty of the luna moth. Some dreams, she knew, have a value of their own, unrelated to the possibility of realization.
She must have help. Get a counselor. Instantly, the counselor appeared at the door asking who needed help. I do. It’s a luna moth, she said quickly. I’ve never seen one before and must have it for my collection. She hated the pleading tone in her voice, but the counselor must understand how important this was, and she had only a very few moments.
I’ll try to get it for you. I never caught one before, but if it means so much to you, I certainly will try. The counselor grabbed a washbasin, dumped its contents down the drain and approached the luna moth. She watched her whack at the moth. The clank of the enamel basin hitting the faucet echoed like a shot in the woods. The moth was gone.
Good, it’s free – fluttering somewhere in the darkness. She thanked the counselor for trying and heard the return of normal sounds around her. A bell sent them scurrying into their cabin. She squeezed the tears out only after the last light was dimmed. The tears were less of disappointment than of self-directed anger.
She would remember that the pursuit of a dream must be done by the dreamer. For now, it was enough to have seen the luna moth. Next time, she would have the courage to reach for it herself.