My grandpa left Glasgow in 1905 and sailed to America and brought his thirteen children up as Americans and so I haven’t yet taken a position on Scottish independence but with the resounding victory of the Scottish National Party in elections last week, I suppose I’ll have to. I like to involve myself in other people’s problems where I myself have nothing at all at stake. Someone asked me about Ukraine the other day and though I haven’t heard anything from there in a long time, I gave a good answer, reasonable, balanced, on the one hand this, on the other hand that.
Meanwhile, I’ve been focused on the crisis of the seventeen-year cicada, trillions of which will soon crawl out of the ground from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, from Georgia to New England, their incessant skritching filling the air for weeks, as they breed and the males drop dead and the females lay eggs to hatch into larvae to tunnel down into the ground to spend seventeen years and then resurrect.
Incessant skritching is a trigger for me, it makes me do crazy things. During the last cicada uprising in 2004, I wrote a book about my liberal politics and thereby offended half of my radio audience; in 1987, I moved to Denmark; in 1970, I went into radio, and in 1953, I decided to be a writer so I could stay indoors and get away from the skritching, the piles of wings and carapaces and dead males on the lawn.
On Saturday night, I flew to New York City, which is pretty much exempt from cicadas because the ground is mostly paved and cicadas don’t have access to jackhammers.
The seventeen-year cicada is one more mystery to ask God about when we reach the hereafter in addition to (1) the story of the Flood: it was metaphorical, right? (2) How could a just God torture Job, a righteous man, for no reason except to test his faith? (3) What is the purpose of all these dead insects? Except in heaven, there is only rejoicing, no Q&A. You only get to meet God if you already believe in Him and have the answers — so you never get the chance to ask; it’s all done by faith. Okay? Got that?
So on Saturday night, I flew to New York City, which is pretty much exempt from cicadas because the ground is mostly paved and cicadas don’t have access to jackhammers. It was a stressful trip from Minneapolis: the cab was late, I arrived at the airport late for check-in, had to hustle, and I was delayed at Security by three TSA agents who inquired separately if I am over 75 and therefore don’t need to remove my shoes. I accepted the stress in good grace because, compared to the male cicada who, after seventeen years underground, has one sexual experience, dies, and never gets to see his progeny, my life is a fairy tale.
The cicadas are out for survival of their species — survival is victory. Father David touched on this in his homily on Sunday and quoted the verse in 2nd Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “Struck down but not destroyed” describes cicada existence pretty well. As for being “persecuted,” we Episcopalians have it pretty easy. Flocks of cicadas are carried by the wind over Manhattan and a few land in Central Park and some in flower pots on terraces and our persecution, believe me, is minimal.
Then I went forward for Communion and saw slight movement on Father David’s vestment sleeve as he held out the wafer to me and said, “The body of our Lord,” and I saw an insect on his extended thumb, perhaps a dying male, and he said, “Hang on,” which he’s never said before during Communion and I flicked the cicada away. “Thank you,” he said. “And also to you,” I said.
At my age, I no longer worry about Noah and the Ark and all those folks knocking on the door begging to be let in. I haven’t read Job in years. The city is noisy, the numerosity is staggering, crazy people yell at you, I don’t belong here but then neither do most of the others. And there have been times on the uptown C train, packed into a car with people on all sides standing within inches of each other and still not touching, avoiding eye contact, when I’ve thought, “We are all one in God and He loves us dearly,” and known it is true. It’s hard to explain this to Midwesterners. You have to be there.
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