March 24, 2011


In one of the chapters of Haruki Murakami’s book, “Norwegian Wood, the central character, Toru, is given a firefly in a jar. Eventually, he decides to release the insect and lifts the lid. The bug senses a change but doesn’t quite understand what has happened. It moves from left to right at the bottom of the glass but finding no exit, stares with apparent longing at the larger world, not knowing how to reach it. After a wait, Toru finally sees the firefly lift its wings and make its escape, flying east into the night. The section ends as follows:

                                 “…Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale,

                               faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul.” (Chapter 4)

(Jean Vadal Smith: Fireflies in the Summer Moonlight)

The metaphor of the firefly struck me as a powerful one. For the past two weeks my 95-year-old mother has been in and out of emergency rooms and it is natural for me to wonder whether the light goes now or “no.” Each time she has these episodes, I suspect her light does grow dimmer and I gird my emotions for the inevitable prospect that one day she too will disappear into the thick darkness.

But I see the firefly not only as a metaphor for my experience with my mother but also as a metaphor for the human condition. As the insect stumbles at the bottom of the open jar, its eyes fixed upon the world beyond, its confusions expresses our disorientation. In moments of awareness, our personal identity converges with our longing for communion… a rip tide that pulls us in different directions.  

Both forces are strong.  No wonder we become disoriented and question our purpose. I cannot account for this war within us. I only know it exists.