‘Mama!! Can I keep it?’ the young child held a glowing, glass jar up to his mother, shaking it violently. Tugging away at mother’s burgundy, corduroys, the tad of about the gentle age of nine was oblivious to the harm so easily caused by a mere, fun evening in the park. What harm could be done in catching fireflies? After all, there were so many of them and when their lights flickered for just a tinge of a moment, the boy’s swift throw of the net was no more than an eager excitement, unbeknownst to the world of harm, pain, or sacrifice. Just fireflies, after all.
‘Mama, look at my jar glow,’ his voice was full of wonder, and the jar was full of timid bugs minding their business, which could have been – in this moment – a jar full of recently caught fairies. Suddenly, it had been proved that they do, in fact, exist, and here they were in all their beauty, glory, and glow – tumbling around in an enclosed jar, a trap, that had been meant to put a little smile on the face of a nine year old, who saw this evening at the park as his own world. He had been brought here by Mama who had given him the net and let him play.
‘Now, Gerard,’ mother’s soothing voice comforted the stale air of the early summer night, ‘don’t shake the jar, hun. We’ll have to let them go before we leave.’
No harm in childsplay.
Gerard grabbed the glass and stared momentarily, blankly into the jar trying so desparately to figure out these strange creatures. The fireflies attached themselves to the jar, occasionally bumping into the glass or flying about from one surface to another, and there were enough that the glow was fairly constant. Gerard smiled at his catch, ‘Can I keep one, Mama, just one?’
Mother hesitated but finally gave in, ‘We’ll poke a hole in the top of the jar, and you can keep one, but you have to let it go tomorrow.’ The potential death of one firefly, mother knew – with as many fireflies as there were – was no big deal, as death is a risk we take every day; although, to mother, this was about teaching young Gerard to take care of whatever comes into your catch – a lesson more easily learned in childhood and more easily forgotten with time.
One particular firefly was chosen for the special occasion, and as though venerating it for sainthood, young Gerard held his one-firefly glass high in the air, praising his catch for keeps. Now came the wait, and the curiosity of a young boy – excited and caring for his new friend – superseded all else in the world. Somewhere a clock ticked, and nothing mattered but Gerard, a glass jar, and a firefly that was – to him – a fairy, ‘like the one from Peter Pan,’ as ‘Mama’ had put it.
After some time, Gerard noticed the flicker grow dimmer and dimmer, and long intervals between bug and fairy grew longer and longer. Truth told, very little time had actually passed, but to Gerard, it seemed as though it had been a lifetime. His affection for this curious creature had grown immensely since its catch. What was happening to this fairy? Had someone stopped believing? Gerard recalled that you have to believe in fairies or they might disappear! Gerard threw a few blades of grass into the jar, hoping to supply his Tinkerbell with some food. Dimmer and dimmer grew the underside of this firefly. Gerard then added a few drops of water. Bugs (and maybe even fairies) like water, afterall. Still, dimmer and dimmer grew the underside of this firefly. Slowly but surely, the light stopped, and as the fairy settled on the bottom of the jar, Gerard found himself occasionally shaking the jar to revive and give life to this poor bug that needed nothing more than the top of the jar to be opened. Life – for a fairy or a bug – was not in some jar.
A tear, like those so easily formed on the eyes of nine year olds simply curious to know a little bit more about their world, flushed itself down Gerard’s cheek, ‘Mama!’ Gerard shook the jar violently, innocently seeking to restore life but dangerously creeping closer and closer to the ‘coup de grace’ of a fairy. He had wanted nothing more than to take care of it, show it off, keep it to himself, and yet, the dear firefly would not so much have minded to be part of next week’s show-and-tell at the local elementary school. The dear firefly would perhaps even have found it a fond thing to shine its dim light into the abyss of a boy whose world – as he grew older – would, like the firefly’s, only grow darker and darker with the more he knew. The choice had to be made to unscrew the cap of the jar, and the choice had not been that of Gerard’s. The choice had not been that of a firefly’s. The choice had not been that of Mother. The choice had been determined by a small, glass jar that had been intended for a little fun and a smile.
A few moments after the cap had been unscrewed, life returned to the small bug, and a once dim light grew stronger and stronger. A smile returned to Gerard’s face, as life returned the bug, though he still hurt to see it move so freely without his hold. Before he knew it, the fairy jumped from the jar and flew back into its park, joining countless other blinks in the night sky. Gerard watched it for a moment and then lost it in the twinkle of the stars and the twinkle of other fairies not unlike dear ‘Tink.’ A nine year old boy had aged, and even his mother had to smile. Other nights would come with more caught fireflies. Other nights would come when Gerard would venerate some jar, jumping on his toes at the delight of having a glass whose light could guide his path once more. Yet, on all these other nights, young Gerard would peer into this same glass jar and catch himself staring down each newly caught bug, thinking, ‘Is this Tink? Is this my fairy I once kept? Or is this just another bug?’
For now, Gerard was just happy to know what to look for, when to set it free, and when to keep it.