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Lightning Bugs, June Bugs, and Slumbering Puppies
(Excerpted from a 42-page letter, never sent)

...I probably didn't say it that clearly when I was with you because I tend to get addled when you're near.

Goofy.

And sometimes dark.

I think I was telling you about the burst of euphoria that flooded through me when I saw my first flash of a lightning bug this spring. Such a dim flash relative to almost any other light source. But I was in the depths of a depressive episode and, as predicted by my favorite Dylan Thomas line, "Light breaks where no sun shines."

The sight of lightning bugs usually reminds me of this great quote from Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain: "The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

As a writer yourself, I'm sure you can appreciate this POV. It's the essence of writing.

And that's why we have the editing process.

Still, we all fail from time to time. Or many times. Or most of the time. Or all of the time.

Lightning happens. Or it doesn't.

And no matter how much I love and respect Clemens' metaphor, I have too much love for lightning bugs (and June bugs too, of which I've seen absolutely nil this year) to write off completely any writing that flashes only dimly.

Hey, it's better than no flash at all.

It's a matter of what the process does for the writer before the reader gets to see it, whether a reader ever gets to see it or not.

*****

June bugs are scarab beetles.

The poor buggers seem to be dumb as doorknobs. Bless their hearts.

When I was 5-or-6-or-7-or-8-years-old (I don't know), I used to gather up dazed and lethargic June bugs from my front porch where they had crashed and burned after a drunken night of bang-bang-banging into the screendoor, trying to get to the blinding, guiding light (Sweet Jesus!).

I'd put them in the bed of a yellow, plastic pickup truck that Granny had given me.

I'd play with them, in the bed of the yellow pickup truck, in the granulated gray-brown dirt, under the maple tree on the southside of the house, in the country, 3 miles west of Roachdale, 40 miles more-or-less west of Indianapolis, in Indiana, in the US, in North America, in the Western Hemisphere, on the planet Earth, in the Solar system, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Local Group, in this universe, in the mid-to-late 1950s, anno Domini.

And I'd pretend the June bugs were pigs. (It was a matter of scale and shape and imagination. I mean, what would you have June bugs be?)

And I was in Hog Heaven.

And this was before my parents started taking my brothers and sister and me to a fundamentalist Christian church 3 times a week. And more during revival meetings. Nazarenes.

And this was before I knew anything about Heaven.

And the irony is that I could have died right then and there, in that dirt under the maple tree, and gone off to a Heaven I knew nothing about.

Or so the mourners would have surmised.

But if there are no lightning bugs, or June bugs, or cicadas or crickets THERE,... Well, thanks, but no thanks.

I belonged to a magical place and time WHERE and WHEN PIGS FLY!

Indiana. The 1950s. Brother Dave's World. Why downgrade?

So, as the summer sun climbed higher in the sky and the day got hotter, my June bugs slept off their hangovers, regained their meager and simple senses, lit out from the bed of my plastic pickup truck, and returned clumsily to the sky, to await the night, when they could once again bang their empty heads against our screendoor, trying to get to the blinding, guiding light (Sweet Jesus!).

My pigs flew away!

(And, although I'm totally ignorant as to why they did it, I can truly appreciate the fact that the ancient Egyptians held scarabs holy. Who knows? Maybe the next CAT scan of a 4,000-year-old mummy will reveal something incredible, something that scientists will babble about for years and years, something that looks a lot like a yellow plastic toy pickup truck in the mummified hand of someone who was once a god.)

*****

I started weeping when I wrote that last line. I'm not sure why.

Maybe I've had too much to drink tonight.

Maybe it's because I tend to cry at the least little provocation since my breakdown.

Maybe it's because, after being depressed and numb for too long a time, I've become too sensitive. Again.

Maybe it's because I've remembered a genuine, original memory. First-person-singular-POV monologue. Not just a memory of a memory.

And all this reminds me of one other genuine, original memory. First-person-singular-POV monologue. Not just a memory of a memory. Read on.

*****

I was 10 or 11 years old.

It was winter. It was snowing. It was nighttime.

I'd been asleep in the back seat of a rolling 1950s Dodge—a big, kinetic, nearly-l00% iron and steel and chrome, droning monster machine from Michigan.

Then I drifted into a momentary state of semi-consciousness.

Pop was driving. Mom was sitting next to him in that full-length front seat that could accommodate 3 or 4 passengers, and more if need be.

My brothers and sister and I were in the back seat, all bundled in our winter coats—in a wool-and-cotton-and-protoplasm pile, huddled together like a litter of slumbering puppies, perhaps dreaming the same dream.

And I felt the chill of winter on my cheeks. But I felt the warmth of family and belonging at my core.

I was just a puppy.

Through the windshield, in the glare of the headlights, the silent silver snowflakes fell in a mesmerizing blur against the velvet black of night. Hypnotic, sparkling, organized chaos.

The engine hummed. And the tires sang a muffled, softly-crunching, rhythmic, lulling sound through drifting snow.

I don't remember where we were going or where we were coming from. And it really doesn't matter. (Although it probably had something to do with church.)

I'd like to think we were heading home. To that old farmhouse out in the country, 2 or 3 miles south-southwest of Coatesville, 40 miles more-or-less west of Indianapolis, in Indiana, in the United States, in North America, in the Western Hemisphere, on the planet Earth, in the Solar system, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Local Group, in this universe, in the early 1960s, anno Domini, E Pluribus Unum, Tempus Fugit.

I was half-awake. I was young and innocent and blissfully ignorant. But I was also dimly aware that I had found a perfect moment in my life.

I felt it.

I could have died right then and gone straight to Heaven. No questions asked. No bureaucratic hassles at the gate.

Then the dancing snowflakes and the droning engine and the singing tires and the warmth of wool-and-cotton-and-protoplasm and the feeling of being truly alive and loved lulled me back to peaceful sleep.

May I never forget that moment for as long as I live.

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