On the Tenth Anniversary of Hope and the Firefly Messengers

(Featured Image: Free Firely Wallpaper via Google Play)

Technically, today isn’t the tenth anniversary of hope.  That came a few weeks later.  But it’s what I choose to celebrate today, August 29, 2015.

Ten years ago, I was writing in a leather journal by candlelight. We had lost power and, despite the sweltering heat and the ever-hungry mosquitoes, it was far more pleasant outside than in.

I was filled with regret, I think, that one thing left undone before Katrina hit.

We didn’t take it seriously; we on the Mississippi Gulf Coast had weathered storms before.  We knew what supplies to gather, what actions to take, what food to store up.

I was on crutches, a foot surgery that had me off of work and unable to carry my last box up the stairs. It was a box of writing: EverQuest fanfiction (ha!), some half-way decent short stories I had dabbled with, and some really bad poetry I shouldn’t have, and journals. Pages and pages of journals. I had been stuck in a stasis for the past two years, post-divorce and having no clue of who I was.

So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Of my love for the fishcamp, of my annoyance at my cats, of my first relationship after my marriage, in all its beautiful tumultuousness, and all the guilt and shame of years of silence.

I wrote.

I was tired and annoyed when my mother came to help me load my stuff up. Cats in carriers, important things, work clothes.  I was not as gracious as I could have been.

But that last box remained as I said, “Fuck it,” and threw my stuff and myself in the car and headed to my parents’ house. The box remained at the bottom of the stairs; I refused even my mother’s offer of carrying it up for me.

I was definitely not as gracious as I could have been.

As I wrote by candlelight, my father told me that I should stop. My mother told me I should stop. “You’re just going to rehash everything.”  They were right, of course, at least half-right: I did rehash everything. But writing is how I think. It’s how I process and refine my thoughts and beliefs.  I realize now that, at least on some level, it’s how I breathe.

I didn’t really have much of a choice.

My mother had also told me to “Cut the Polly Anna bullshit out.”

Before the night I was writing, I was okay, in that okay-sort-of-way that meant I didn’t understand a damn thing.  “We lost…” someone would say, and I would counter with something positive.  “The damage!” someone would exclaim, and say something uplifting and no doubt cliche.

Over and over and over again.

Now, in the present, I recognize it as shock, something so terrible and encompassing that my mind couldn’t process it. I saw a silver lining everywhere. All I could see were silver linings.

Until I broke, and then I didn’t anymore. Not a single silver lining.

That one thing left undone, and no way to see the consequences. Roads were flooded, blocked by debris.  There was no way to get to the fishcamp, although my dad valiantly tried until the water was too high, even for his high-sitting truck, and we had to turn back.

All I could see was darkness, All I could hear were stories of death and destruction through the radio.  The occasional “I’m okay,” text from friends when they’d go through wasn’t enough to keep my head above the proverbial water.

I was most definitely not okay.

They tried to comfort me, my parents, but I was inconsolable. I needed to be left alone with my darkness and my realization that I was not the strong person I thought I was: I was not able to maintain my okay-ness through the storm.

And I cried. Tears, fat and wet making the ink run against the page before I gave up trying to write. There was a great paradox: everything in me was exhausted, empty, and yet I was filled to the brim with fear. My cup overrunneth, and no amount of crying would stop it.

I hadn’t prayed in a very long time.  At this point, I was lost in the woods, God and faith and the core of who I was had escaped me, bounding like a rabbit just beyond the next tree.

And then I prayed.

Silently, feeling foolish and guilty that I only prayed when I needed something, I prayed. I apologized for my transgressions, for not being the person I knew I should be and humbly (one of the few times I’ve been truly humble, I think) asking for a sign that everything was going to be okay.

I cried and prayed until I fell asleep, my head resting on my crossed arms on the table.

When I awoke, it was still dark. I was still fearful. Nothing had changed. Now I was dark and fearful AND bitter.

As I stood and turned to go inside, to try to sleep in a bed, I turned and saw a single firefly very close to the house. It was under a pecan tree that was still standing, despite having lost several major limbs.The moon must have been bright because I remember seeing the tree and knowing their proximity, and we still had no electricity.

I had often seen them down by the woods, a good distance away, during the summer when I was a child, but had never seen them this close to the house. As I watched, its light blinking off and appearing somewhere else, another appeared.

And another and another.

They looked like dolphins of the night sky, full of graceful moments of descension and ascension, diving deep only to come up high to breathe.

And I laughed, one of those laughs that seemed endless, and rocked my entire body, sending my post-surgery foot a-throbbing with the sheer depth of the laughter.

For the briefest time, all my fear and darkness fell away as I was transfixed by this school of fireflies.

I had found hope again.

The days after were grueling, but I began to see things through lightning-bug colored sunglasses. The fear was still there, the uncertainty, but it was in the background, muted, rather than parading up front like a jazz funeral, commanding respect and demanding attention.

Hope remained.

We had blessing after blessing, and I saw people who didn’t like each other work together. People were more polite as we stood in line for water despite the long wait and the ever-present armed forces.  I heard more stories of roof-top rescues, of lost animals and relatives found.

Some of my father’s family appeared as superheroes with a camper (with the oh-so-blessed air conditioner) and generators.

I had an offer from an Everquest friend to move to another country; I had an offer from another to move to where it was “safer.”

We had people from all over the country donate things to replace things that were lost, to help us get on our feet again. Many, many church missions, including some Amish, that helped people  gut and rebuild their houses.  Electric company employees–some from as far away as Canada–came and worked on the powerlines–so many of them that had been downed or broken.

And there’s a girl named Sue who, when she heard I had lost almost all of my clothes brought a bag of new ones that “were in my closet” that just so happened to have tags on them. Also, they weren’t in her size. Just mine.

There were friends in Florida that took my cats in, a man and wife who  opened their home to me so that I could get out of the chaos and regroup so that I could make decisions that needed to be made. I am grateful, and especially to the woman whose warmth I’ve never forgotten, along with her aversion to frosted glass.

I attended a mass by Father Louis (Loo-eee) Lohan that was one of the most uplifting things I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone had lost something or someone or both,and yet everyone was able to sift through the shock to come together.

To find hope.

It was weeks, I think, before we could make it back to the fishcamp to see that yes, in fact, the writing had all been swept away. Along with the furniture, along with so many, many things.

There is a difference between hope and denial, and I think that denial often gets mistaken for hope or positivity.

Hope bursts forth in moments and reverberates through your whole being.  Hope is seeing the destruction around you, acknowledging it and accepting it, and knowing it can, it will get better. Hope is fuel that sparks the fires of change, it is the acceptance of loss and the looking forward to gain. Hope does not deal in pithy cliches, in one-liners that do nothing but make the speaker feel that she or he has “done something.” It is not defensive. It just is.

Denial is a willful ignorance of the depth of the destruction, the dismissal of it in sound bytes, cliches that minimize it and disappear it and ignore it.  Denial is defensive, rebutting destruction with, “Yeah, but…” It’s a dismissal of the “yeah” part and a focus on the “but.”

Destruction comes, be it a hurricane or a fire, a divorce or a diagnosis, and hope can shine through if denial is set aside.

While I wouldn’t wish a hurricane (or any sort of destruction) on anyone, I can say, without a doubt, that it was a turning point for me, one for which I am and will always be grateful. It was a catalyst that drove me back to school, that made me take stock of my life and made me begin the awkward process of being in my own driver’s seat.

Ten years later: My life has not taken the path that I wish it had. There were and are many turns that I would much rather do without.  I’m not exactly where I wanted to be, just so. But I am standing, like the old pecan tree that lost its limbs and yet weathered the storm, like the oak tree in Bay St. Louis under which I was married, like the people of the Gulf Coast who returned home after evacuation, who started businesses and supported their communities.

I still stand.

I have no interest in seeing the remembrances of Katrina that are planned this year, although I’m so glad Robin Roberts returned to Pass Christian. I have no interest in seeing “how far we’ve come” when our crime rate is insane, our economy is balanced on the backs of minimum-wage workers and our insurance rates have skyrocketed despite no other devastating hurricanes (79% increase in my premium, bee-tee-double-u, since I bought my house in 2009).

I have no interest in seeing the devastation; now that’s an unnecessary rehashing.

I am, however, interested in the hope that has never left.  In the trading rose-colored glasses for those lit by firefly light, I have discovered that hope is never lost.

Misplaced, maybe, but never lost.

Not a bad thing to have realized over the past decade.

As I was searching for pictures of fireflies, I came across Radim Shrieber’s beautiful work. http://www.fireflyexperience.org/. I highly recommend that you check him out.

I will hang one of his prints some day.  Probably this one, entitled “The Signaling Female.” It is simply exquisite, but the more I look, the more I choose another one.


8 thoughts on “On the Tenth Anniversary of Hope and the Firefly Messengers”

  1. As I was sitting here reading this, my entire body was rocking forward and back, on it’s own accord. It’s something that “happens” to me these days, when I am looking at something that resonates deeply within me. I had no idea you were impacted by Katrina. I HAVE been watching some of the memorial shows on TV, and my heart was rendered asunder yet again…as it was those days, 10 years ago, when I sat in a hotel room in San Diego watching. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God, oh my God! It’s going to hit…break…hit…break…)

    Writing IS salvation – on many levels – for some of us. It’s where our alchemy transpires. Where the magic happens, the healing, the cathartic purging/cauterizing takes place. I am glad that you remember. That you rehash. I am a rehasher. We are making gold.

    HOPE. How perfectly, amazingly, poignantly you describe it….give it taste and texture and honor. My Katrina came earlier this year and I am experiencing many of the same “symptoms” from an Awakening of Crises.

    “I already died once.” Something a butterfly would say, with it’s tattered wings and on it’s final flights.

    How can we be afraid?


    I would like to share this on my blog.


  2. Thank you so much for your comment, Grace, and by all means share it. (And check your email.) Of all the things I seek, perhaps resonance is the most important, so I do know that in-your-gut, rocking-back-and-forth feeling of which you speak.

    Sifting through pictures of the damage — so much of the coast was completely leveled, or “slabbed,” as we called it — seems to be an invitation to get mired in the past, to give more importance to the catalyst than to the change.

    Change, I’ve read, is a series of deaths, and some deaths are harder to take than others. I think the seeds of fear are always present; we’re human and we can’t quite get them all out. It solidifies, intensifies when misplace our hope and all we can see is the present.

    Awakening of Crisis — what a lovely title. That sounds like a book in the making!

    Much love, wonder woman.


  3. Grace’s reblog brought me here and I’m quite glad I followed the link to read.

    I survived Hurricane Andrew that hit South Florida in the early ’90s (’92 I think?) and at that time it was considered the costliest hurricane. I remember being huddled in the hallway of my apartment and hearing the wind like a freight train. Luckily, I did not live in the hardest impacted areas but it was frightening nonetheless so when I saw Katrina and her devastation my heart melted for all those in her wake.

    When you wrote about the fireflies the first thought that popped into my head was “they are signaling to see who survived”. As a writer who writes as you do, to make sense and understand, I shed a tear at the thought of all the lost writings.

    As a born and raised NYer, I do not watch all the 911 memorials. My father worked on the Twin Towers, I remember going as a small child before they even opened to the public and sitting on his shoulders while we walked on the edge of the roofs. It hurts too much to see the destruction over and over. You state it eloquently “I have no interest in seeing the devastation; now that’s an unnecessary rehashing. … In the trading rose-colored glasses for those lit by firefly light, I have discovered that hope is never lost.

    This is one of the best posts regarding the anniversary I have read.


    1. I remember Andrew peripherally, as I was fairly young, and the only hurricane I had experienced previous to Katrina was Elena, and all I remember about that was that we played in the eye and it toppled trees in our woods that made the best hideouts. Childhood gave me such a limited perspective: I knew it was fun and that it was strong enough to topple very old oak cypress trees, but it never really registered beyond that.

      As a born and raised Southerner, I, too, avoid the 911 memorials that play every year. Despite having no ties to New York, I couldn’t get the video footage out of my head, and to actually watch it again…I just can’t do it. I want to see things that celebrate the heroes, the first responders, the neighbors that helped each other, but they can’t seem to let go of the footage.

      Same thing with Katrina.

      One of the most important things I’ve learned in a writing class was that “off screen action minimizes.” When a bad guy, or a good guy, dies off stage or screen, he’s lessened. It’s the things that happen on stage which are important, and, yes the events must be viewed in context, but it’s all about what we stress…what we consider important.

      Part of healing is acknowledging the pain without giving it power, allowing it to loosen its grip on us.

      9/11 happened, and there’s nothing we can do to change that, but it seems more productive–more triumphant–to mention it only as context. Because it happened, we had heroes.

      Same thing with Katrina.

      By shifting focus, we’re able to shape the narrative and place emphasis where we “want to live.” I choose to “live with” the heroes. I choose to live with the fireflies. Not because I’m denying that either event happened, but rather, I’ve moved on. The stage has moved, and the storms are just the beginning of the play, and certainly not the entire show itself.

      I love what you wrote about the fireflies signaling those who survived. Perhaps they were signaling the survivors and inviting them to dance with them, to go from survivors to thrivers.

      Or I could just be a sentimental fool.

      Thanks so much for your kind words and for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I followed Grace’s reblog and Wow…. I am sat here with a lump so big in my throat and eyes brimming I can hardly type… You write so well .. And brought your experience into my vision ..

    Sometimes it takes the worst to bring out the best in people.. Thank you NJ for sharing your experience as we remember them..

    Blessings Sue


    1. I think that some “bests” are only possible because of the “worsts.” Doesn’t justify them or make them okay, but they do tend to provide opportunity that isn’t there otherwise, I think.

      Thank you very much for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree N J Ray.. There are lots of worsts I do not agree with in life.. And I have been through several periods of times I would sooner not have experienced.. But in hindsight.. they brought me to who I am today.. And agree with you they often present the opportunity for changes we may not have otherwise have made.. 🙂
        Blessings Sue ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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