The awe (and terror) of reemergence

Cicada spotting. May 2021.

You know how it is if you've had long to wait.
When that thing finally happens, isn't it great?
If you've been in a dark hole, nothing is duller.
Imagine emerging, surrounded by color!

Cecily Cicada, by Kita Helmetag Murdock and Patsy Helmetag

The most anticipated arrival in our household this year, second only to the birth of our second child? The Brood X cicada emergence.

Nature Boy has been awaiting this moment for literal decades. The brood's appearance two cycles ago when he was a child first inspired his love of science and nature, and now he is getting to experience it with his child and wife. Since the start of spring, he has tracked the signs in the backyard, inspected local parks, followed cicadaphile chatter online. Now finally, after weeks of breathless impatience, his beloved cicadas are here.

Meanwhile, I have impatiently awaited my own emergence: that of a post-vaccine, slow re-entry into society. Last week I took public transit for the first time since pandemic began. I expected to encounter an alien landscape, so apocalyptic was my vision. Instead, I encountered the normal Metro routine, just with people wearing masks. And it felt ... fine.

The humdrum regularity of the train ride sent me through an odd wormhole of time and space. Following my familiar commute made it feel like a weekend had passed between rides rather than 14 months. Is this how cicadas feel after 17 years? I wondered. Bereft of baking, knitting, and Netflix binging, does their underground existence assume the same steady, stultifying sameness I have felt this past year as the mile markers for the passage of time shimmered, wavered, and disappeared?

By now I'm sure you've seen the memes circulating about cicadas reemerging strictly to eat, procreate, and scream—a primal, cathartic wishlist that resonates in a country whose vaccine rollout and loosening public health mandates are restoring a feeling of cautious optimism, a sense that, yes, the soil temperature has finally warmed and we're free to burrow up into the glorious embrace of a hedonistic summer. I too feel this subconscious tug, albeit with a persistent low level of terror that a predator expects my complacency and thus my vulnerability. I crave the awe of stepping into unfiltered sunlight; I shrink from the real possibility that any freedom I rush toward will be short-lived, so best not to invite the joy at all.

You see how quickly I can collapse under the weight of this metaphor, given how much uncertainty we've endured and how much remains. And as I'd prefer not to be a nymph instantly caught in a lawnmower, I'm choosing instead to consider the fruits of hibernation—the inherent benefits of time spent alone in the dark.

For example, I have (inadvertently) learned how to be more present. I have practiced not only permitting myself rest, but also creating space for it. Further, I have reframed my rest as a vital opportunity to recharge, which helps me resist my own ingrained habit of labeling such time as indulgent, wasteful, or—heaven forbid—unproductive.

Because if cicadas can take 17 years to prepare for a couple weeks of adulthood, then I can take whatever amount of time I require to prepare for whatever new stage awaits me. And in the same breath, I am allowed to feel apprehensive, terrified, anxious, grief-stricken, ambivalent, blase, delighted, overjoyed, etc. about that transition from preparation to actualization. From past state to present. From dark to light.

Over the last two weeks, I have watched my child catch his father's contagious enthusiasm and transform from skeptical viewer to curious observer to avid participant, grabbing, holding, caressing, and launching every cicada that crosses his path. While the insects themselves probably don't appreciate this transformation, I do, because it reminds me of my own enduring capacity for change. Year by year, month by month, day by day, the soil warms. The moment approaches. We emerge.

Prayer #368: Cicada Song

Your love song reverberates throughout the lush trees, a dynamic rise and fall seeking to sweep me off my feet.

A mature faith has the courage not only to stop and listen, but to relax into the swoon. May I tune into the thrumming music and honor its Creator with my willingness to hear.