Friday, July 6, 2012

Look! A Mayfly!


Look! A mayfly!
Tears began, but then my heart
Sang a little song

The mayfly is a member of the Ephemeroptera, from the Greek meaning 'lasting only a day'. After a year as a nymph, it crawls out of the water, moults, spreads its wings, takes to the sky, finds a mate, lays its eggs, and dies, all in a day.

A cascade of emotions took me by surprise.

Melancholy and a sense of futility surfaced first. Compared to the rest of its life, the tiny creature's last day is like a flash of lightning. So much heroic activity in such a short time, and for what? So that more mayflies can grub around in a stream for a year to spend a frantic day in the sun, provided they don't get eaten by the fish or the birds first? Perhaps even so that people can contemplate them, get all teary-eyed and write poetry that other people who may not have seen a mayfly can read and get all teary-eyed too.

Melancholy becomes wonder. The critter's last day really isn't so much frantic as it is perfect. After a slow climb out of the water, it waits in the sun until it's ready to moult. It climbs out of its old skin and waits again until its wings dry in shape. Then at just the right time with just the right effort, flapping them, the former bottom dweller does the unimaginable. (I don't imagine that mayflies imagine, but who knows what goes on in their little heads.) Its flight is an invitation to jump for joy.

Then the adult stuff - courtship, wild mayfly sex, laying eggs. Since baby nymphs don't need looking after, the parents do the right thing and give themselves completely for the benefit of all beings in the vicinity that could use some nourishment.

I recognize I'm projecting here, or maybe squinting at my reflection. The sadness, wonder and joy I feel contemplating that brief life, are the sadness, wonder and joy of my life.

And the cascading emotions aren't quite over.

I feel an uneasy chill that I really don't want to deal with, knowing exactly what it is. The mayfly's life is brief, but not a moment is wasted. My life is not so brief, and about those wasted moments, let's just say I seem to be studiously ignoring what Zen Master Daito Kokushi said in 1337:

Time flies like an arrow, so do not waste energy on trivial matters.
Be attentive. Be attentive!

Guilty as charged.

So many lessons packed into a tiny mayfly.

So many lessons in everything, if we just pay attention.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is one of my favourite pieces of music that breaks my heart – the theme from Schindler’s List, composed by John Williams and played by Itzhak Perlman. Although the movie is about the Holocaust, the music makes me think of the suffering of the animals for whom the Holocaust has never ended.



Mayfly photo credit: Richard Bartz via Wikimedia Commons.

15 comments:

  1. I love this post, David. It touches my heart so deeply - am teary-eyed as well...

    I love that you say "melancholy becomes wonder.....squinting at the sadness, wonder and joy of life [as] my reflection." Beautiful. I need to do more squinting ;)

    Isn't the dance of Life wonderful! Experiencing the sadness and the wonder, embracing it all.

    I cry too for the suffering of animals, innocents, and those who can't allow themselves to taste the melancholy *and* wonderment of Life!

    And PS - if you have touched just one heart with your own heart - as you do here - you have not wasted your life! And I'm sure you touch many more with your words... and your life...

    With gratitude... Christine

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    1. Thank you so much, Christine! Your kind words are much appreciated. Loved your latest post over at Mystic Meandering!

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  2. I am sure you are familiar with Mary Oliver's The Summer Day. Paying attention! Praying! All the same thing...intimacy with life! That matters! You had your own Summer Day.

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    1. Hi Alan, thanks for dropping by! I had actually forgotten that poem until now, but it was that and a couple of others that sent me scurrying to the bookstore to pick up her anthologies. Yes I did have a Summer Day, complete with a "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" at the end.

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  3. Love mayflies. Have a whole huge book on them. All related to fly fishing, mind you. But still. They have always been harbingers of new beginnings and the delicate intensity with which we can live out our lives.

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    1. Wow - another ephemeropterophile (or should I say ephemeropterologist?) ... what are the chances? Delicate intensity is a beautiful way of putting it.

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  4. David, what a beautiful and heartfelt post. It's touching to read your progression of emotions; if only the mayfly knew all that it evoked in us! Your words brought tears to my eyes, as well. It also reminded me to live out my days intentionally, because while they (hopefully) aren't my last, they should all have meaning. Still, I cannot imagine if each day had as much purpose and meaning as a mayfly's last, now *that* seems exhausting ;)

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    1. Thank you RR - it seems like we really have a soft spot for those little critters.

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  5. Ephemeroptera! Thank you for teaching me this word. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

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    1. Hi Laura, nice to 'see' you here too! It seems gentle reminders abound. Which is a good thing, as I can use all the reminders I can get :)

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  6. David you married the two so beautifully - The poignant short existence of the mayfly and Perlman's haunting violin! It's wrapped seeingly and feelingly in your profound prose.

    Mr. David Ashton - Your soul goes deep... Hardly a waste of good time at all!

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    1. Thanks for your very kind words, Bea - they mean a lot. That tune is hard to get tired of. Music takes us to some wonderful places.

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  7. Oooh heartbreaking. AND the beauty of transience! One of my favourite pieces of music too...

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    1. Thanks, Roselle. So many lessons in Nature, as I often learn over at qualia and other wildlife!

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