When I was 14, I had a dream about a moth.
In my dream I chase the moth around a white room with a fly swatter. I catch the moth and smash it against the wall over and over again, leaving a trail of wing imprints on the wall.
The circumstances of the dream elude me: Why was I chasing that moth? Why did I want to kill it? The image of wingprints on the wall remains seared in my memory.
When I was 21, a giant moth appeared in my apartment.
My two roommates and I screamed in terror. We sprinted to CVS to buy surgical masks, moth balls, bug killing spray, and umbrellas to protect us from the moth flying at our head. We got back to the apartment breathless and learned the giant scary moth was hiding in the open box that held our bathroom lights.
We giggled in an I-can’t-believe-we-have-to-do-this way before coming up with a three-person strategy to get rid of the moth:
You swat it down with the bug spray.
I’ll get it with the shoe.
I stood on a chair in the bathroom wearing a surgical mask, spray in one hand and an open umbrella in the other. I sprayed the pesticides on the moth to jostle it out of its hiding place, and together the three of us killed the moth.
There were no wingprints on the walls, just wisps of poison and relieved laughter: That was so scary! Where did it come from?! It was HUUUUGGGEEE! My heart is still racing. Okay these masks are getting uncomfortable…
Tonight I am 25, and I am contorted in my bed alone.
My eyes are wide awake at 2 AM, my comforter is damp from the humidity in my apartment, my room is stuffy with no hope of respite.
I just finished writing a book manuscript, and I feel creatively barren. Several jarring life choices loom on the horizon, dangling their lights in front of me in a blurry array of options, and I don’t know what to do. My airline lost my luggage, and I’m worried I won’t be reunited with the citrine earrings that my mom and I bought together at an art fair. My jaw aches. I am lost. I reach out to the Universe for help, but my own questions echo back to me upside-down.
A clamor of loud rustling above my head breaks my melancholy, and I look up:
There is a giant moth on the ceiling above my bed.
I consider my options: I don’t want to kill it this time. It’s too late to chase the moth out the front door without awakening other people, but I am afraid of it. I can’t sleep knowing this moth is right on top of me. The moth sits motionless on the ceiling awaiting my decision.
I tuck myself into a makeshift tent of sheets to hide from the moth, and I type “what does a moth symbolize” into my phone, careful to dim the screen so it doesn’t come diving towards the light.
I learn that moths are symbolically similar to butterflies except moths are nocturnal. While butterflies represent life and birth and transformation, moths rule the shadowy side – the dream state, otherworldliness, psychic prowess, darkness.
But moths don’t stumble in the darkness. They don’t have to. They find their mates using instinct and pheromones, snaking along until they unseeingly find one another. Even when they can’t see what’s coming next, they intuitively detect where they need to go.
Moths also use their inner knowing to catapult themselves towards whatever light they can find – even if that light is artificial. Even if that light is deadly. They vigilantly seek out the light in the darkness and fly at it full-force, and I love them for not caring whether the light is generated by the moon or by an automatic lamp on the front porch. They fixate on the light, and they go.
Sometimes I stumble in the darkness. I splash around in it for a while, I let it soak into my bones, I let it keep me awake in my damp miserable bed on weeknights before I transmute it into words of light. I know all about echolocation. I know all about flinging myself into whatever light I can find.
When was the last time that you allowed yourself to feel your way out of a desperate situation? When was the last time you stopped the brain chatter that screams I NEED TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT and just let the answers come to you instead?
When was the last time you chose to direct your attention away from your darker emotions and into whatever sparks of light you could find? What beauty did you find there? What people lifted you up? What memories buoyed you until you reached the shore of yourself again?
Thank you, I whisper to the moth as I drift to sleep, finally relaxed. When I wake up the next morning, the moth is gone as I knew it would be. No bloody wingprints or aerosol containers of pesticides needed this time, just the intoxicating understanding that the shreds of meaning that we seek are always accessible to us if we open our eyes to see them.
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