Yesterday I tried to rescue a cicada that had fallen on the pavement in the bus loop at school.
I didn’t see it fall. I only saw it on its back, wildly fluttering its wings, unable to right itself.
As cicadas are huge insects, many of my colleagues preferred not to get near it.
But I have loved cicadas all my life. Their summer song, that choral buzzing swelling from the treetops, sends my spirit spiraling skyward. I find it among the most comforting of Earth’s songs.
And so I went and picked it up.
The cicada beat its wings in a frenzy, for a second clinging to my dress with its hook-legs.
I placed it, right side up, in the mulch at the roots of a crape myrtle.
It flipped over on its back again.
This is what cicadas do, what most insects do, when they are dying. Their legs can’t support them anymore.
I figured the creature would be gone by the time school dismissal was over. All I could do was provide a dignified passing for it in the mulch under the tree versus being flattened by the wheel of a bus.
But it was still alive, moving its legs a little, when time came for me to leave.
So I put it in a cup and brought it home.
It was still and silent for most of the ride, except for one episode of weak wing-beating against the cup.
I placed it, right side up, under some ivy in a planter on the back deck.
A couple of hours later, it was on its back again, still feebly moving a leg or two.
I don’t know how long it takes cicadas to die. I don’t know if they feel pain, anxiety, or fear. I know they live the greater part of their lives underground (up to 17 years, some of them) and their time above is short (a few weeks). I start listening for their song at the end of May, the month of my birth, and I hear the last strains sometime in September. Cyclical, symbolic creatures, cicadas. Across cultures and legends, they’re most often associated with immortality and resurrection.
Yet this one was dying. I couldn’t help it or save it. I couldn’t tell it how grateful I am for its kind, and it couldn’t care. I couldn’t give it peace.
In the end, it gave me peace to let it play out here at home with honor in the ivy-sheltered planter. As night drew near, dozens of other cicadas called from the trees…a fitting requiem for a fellow northern dusk-singing cicada.
Maybe it could hear. Maybe the song was a comfort, a blessing, a benediction.
It was for me.
My northern dusk-singing cicada
2 thoughts on “The cicada”
This moving meditation resonates not merely with the symbolism I also find in many things around me, but also with my desire to connect with the living experience of all creatures. Thank you for this inspired piece.
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The cicada is one of my favorite creatures, primarily for the sound of its song, deeply entrenched in childhood summers spent with my grandparents. As an adult, I’ve found the symbolism profoundly meaningful. I will always be writing about cicadas, in one way or another. That line of yours, ‘my desire to connect with the living experience of all creatures,’ strikes deep…for me, that’s an inherent appreciation for living things, our interconnectedness (for everything, eventually, is connected) and the sense of awe. Yes, even with big ol’ bugs like cicadas. They offer so much. Thank YOU for your reflective responses.