The Nature of Transformation

I’m afraid to ask my neighbors if they think I’m a bit odd, given that such a question would probably ignite an invisible battle between their politeness and their honesty.

They might tell you my outdoor furniture is more decorative than functional. Instead of sitting, I stroll and pause, placing my hands on trees or crouching to squint at a new patch of moss. I’m always watching for turtles or a cluster of insects on the move, and I believe the most aggressive weeds can be friendly teachers.

A sudden abundance of fireflies makes me rich with delight.

This summer, I’ve also paused to study bunches of cicada “shells,” those pale brown skins which cicadas exit at maturity. Like the cicada, those papery shells are fascinating, abandoned on the ground in small piles until the rain and wind carry them away.

The cicada needs a major PR campaign, since gossip continues to damage the insect’s reputation. Despite the news that its association with locusts is just a case of mistaken identity, this rumor continues to hurt the poor cicada’s brand. (We’ve never heard of a “plague of butterflies,” have we?) Although less glamorous than the colorful butterfly, this creature is an equally potent symbol of transformation.

Life in the dark

I noticed one cicada’s shell was still occupied last week, its resident struggling across a root before inching up the trunk of a large tree. Two days later, I saw the insect’s journey had ended at a height of five feet. Only the shell remained, and I wondered if the cicada rested before bursting out into its new life.

The cicada is no snake, cleanly shucking one expired skin to reveal the new. Legs must leave their original armor as the insect pops backward through a slit, its uncovered body the same shape with one important addition: wings.

But first, the cicada may have spent as much as 13 or even 17 years underground, scraping up to 8 feet below that same tree for its food before instinct called it to surface into the light. The same instincts driving its climb probably inform the insect of its vulnerability. The cicada has waited most of its life for those still-hidden wings, not yet available to help it escape predators during this slow ascent.

What if, when change awakens us to our own fragility, or when sadness leaves us feeling raw and porous, our miracle is already in the making?

As Louis L’Amour wrote, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”

Sounds like love

To humans, the cicada’s calls might sound exotic or shrill and tinny, but to the cicada, those chirps and wing-clicks are deeply attractive. To connect, a cicada knows it must make the music that untargeted ears will hear only as noise.

Inspiration for more authenticity in marketing and life can be found in the cicada’s uncensored calls, an insect’s naturally balanced pattern of announcing and listening – invitation and attention.

A unique, creative voice is not software; it’s hardware, ready to be accessed and exercised by each of us.

May the cicada remind us to voice our gifts, to ask for what we truly want, to unfurl our dreams and unfamiliar wings without apology and take flight.

(Photo by Candace Schilling)