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