I am not a bug person. I get squeamish when I see spiders and I’d rather not touch slugs if I can help it. I know spiders and slugs aren’t technically bugs, but whatever, same difference. So, it strikes me as odd that I’m about to write another blog post about a bug. Go where the muse takes you, I guess?
I may not like bugs, but I have always liked the word Cicada. I like way it feels in my mouth all curvy and staccato. I like the way the ‘da’ lingers at the end like a breathy secret. I think it would be a good name for a pet.
Growing up in the Midwest, I liked hearing the songs of the Cicadas when they come out in the warming, late Spingtime. When you hear the Cicadas sing, you are somewhere outside, near trees enjoying something beautiful, hopefully with a cocktail. Cicadas are the serenaders of warm, early summer eves when the collective spirits are high.
Cicadas can be heard every year, but the famous (or infamous) swarms of them don’t arrive but once every 17 years. That is the length of the Magicicada’s life cycle. These swarms, or Broods as they’re called, live underground for 17 years before they emerge. During these 17 years they grow, and when they get too big for their exoskeletons, they molt. This happens several times over their underground lives. When they finally emerge on the 17th year they go through one last molting wherein their wings are fully formed and functional for the first time. From there, they take flight. Within a few weeks they will sing, mate, the females will lay eggs, and they will all die leaving behind trees caked in ghosts of discarded exoskeletons. The eggs that were laid in the trees will hatch and the nymphs, as they’re called, will fall to the ground, burrow in, and start the process all over again. It’s fascinating really.
The last Magicicada emergence of “The Kansan Brood” which is located around my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri was 1998. The next emergence will be in 2015. In 1998 I was my second year of college. I was 20 and in between my first and secondmolting.
Molting, is defined as, “…the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life cycle.”
In my life cycle I have had very specific times when I underwent profound and excruciating molts. As a teenager, I was painfully lonely. On the surface it looked like I had plenty of friends, but just under that exoskeleton was a raw, tender and scared body. I was afraid because I felt a little different and a maybe a bit crazy, and mostly unlovable in every way. I’m sure that’s a common enough theme in adolescence and it was mine. Through those rough years I molted layers and layers of pride. Underneath all that I found understanding and compassion for people who seem a little different, and maybe a bit crazy, and perhaps, who sometimes feel unloveable, too.
After college, somewhere around 24, I fell into a depression. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I longed for a purpose. I felt like I was floundering. During that disorienting time I sloughed off a lot of feelings of worthlessness. Growing underneath that heavy exterior of pain was someone who had talent and work ethic and a fire of an ambition born out of a hundred embers of small successes.
After I got married, when I was 28, I underwent another molt, a deeply personal one. I was selfish and still hanging onto some bitter pride. It took a good long while to outgrow that skin because it had been with me so long. Under those jaded and jagged outer layers I found that there was greater joy in giving, than receiving. I refocused my myopic view of the world to incorporate others into my vision for a good life. I gave up a lot of things I liked, but what I gained was what I needed to grow.
In 2010, there was a big, granddaddy molt. I found myself on the other side of a legal battle with a very large company which I dedicated many years of my life to, and all because I was a women who didn’t act like a woman should. I didn’t even know these layers existed. I was caught by surprise how painful stripping away these layers were because I did not know, and ultimately feared what I might find underneath. I thought those layers were critical to my internal being. I clung to them like superglue mixed with cement spackled onto my bones as though losing them would kill me. But as nature intended, either I had to let go, or die, and so I molted which sometimes felt like dying. That year I chiseled away heavy coats of ego and self-righteousness and chunks and chunks of unimportant things that I no longer needed in my life.
That process exposed me like never before. I was raw and vulnerable, maybe for the first time in my life. But do you know what else I found? The beginnings of wings.
But wait! I was not done, oh no, not yet. I still had to burrow out and climb that tree and survive one last molt. This proved to be the most difficult phase of the last 17 years of my life. The climb up the tree involved leaving my marriage, which meant reconstructing and reorienting my entire world view which up this point, had been plunged in darkness underground. Never could I have made that climb on shaky legs, had I not gained strength all those years beneath the surface. I know that now. I was always meant to make that climb. And I was always meant to have wings.
And right now, as I write this, I’ve shed that my final layer. I’m standing on the edge of something more beautiful than my lifetime underground could possibly imagine. And I’m getting ready to fly…
… and just when the collective spirits are high and the time is right… I’m also going to sing.
Because after 17 years of growing and molting I know this much… if I am brave enough to let go of the things that no longer serve me, I will always find something more useful underneath. But letting go is the hardest part, and sometimes it feels like ripping off your own skin because it hurts so bad, but what’s waiting for you on the other side is always something better… maybe even wings.
(*You guys, Cicadas are hideously ugly bugs. I mean, really, really creepy in every way. If you don’t believe me, click here. But seriously, you can not UN-SEE that shit so please, click wisely. I picked the prettiest Cicada I could find on the Internet AND it isn’t even a real photo. This little guy is apparently from Thailand. Enjoy.)