THE MOTH AND THE FLAME
By: Lauren Anderson
I love going grocery shopping at night.
Wait, let me clarify that statement. I hate to grocery shop. But when the task is inevitable, I prefer to do it at night. I like to tack it onto the end of an evening when I’m already out and about.
That way it tricks my brain into believing that I didn’t have to waste time out of my day to do such a mundane chore. Say what you will, cause I know tons of people that love to grocery shop. But I’d rather clean the sink.
So the other night, I walk into my apartment, and I open the door, and I leave the door open for a second so I could manage the multiple bags I had to juggle… and in flies a HUGE MOTH.
Quite possibly the biggest rain-forest-sized-Mothra-cousin I’ve ever seen. I was shocked for two reasons. For one, when it flew past at first, I thought it was a bat. That’s how big it was. And two, it’s been awfully cold the last couple of days so I thought most insects had gone the way that insects do when the weather turns.
But not this monster.
The moth flew to the light in my hallway, and hung there. When it landed, it froze. It stopped moving entirely. Casting a shadow on the hallway as I set my grocery bags down and opened my door. But as I was managing my keys, my eyes kept flicking back to the moth, I couldn’t stop staring.
And then I started to cry.
Not big tears or sobs or anything… it wasn’t like that. But I could feel my eyes well up. I surprised myself. Up until this point I thought I was having a good night. Minus the trip to the grocery store. But for as much as I hate grocery shopping, I do like the feeling of having accomplished something. And I do like having food in my house. (The threat of “Food Scarcity” is still a weird trigger for me…)
So here I am, standing in a hallway with my backpack, purse, umbrella, three bags of groceries and a case of La Croix at my feet, crying at a giant moth that flew into the hallway and was resting on the light. What the eff is happening right now?
I didn’t react to the moth the way humans usually do. I made no attempt to “shue” it away, or make it go back outside. With the chilly rain, that almost felt heartless?
Looking at that huge insect, trying to find warmth or comfort on the light, knowing that if that were a flame, it would’ve been killed. And in a way, that decision to go to the light just separated it from it’s natural outdoor habitat and food… so it was going to die shortly anyway.
It became like an oddly potent poetic moment. Do you die from the cold, and the harsh climate? Or do you fly to the “flame” for warmth and and ultimately meet your demise anyway?
Woof. I sound like Sylvia Plath right now. (Sorry. But fall makes me DEEP, I guess.)
I don’t mean to be maudlin, but I was struck by the moment. There was no real option here. And of course I don’t know a lot about moths. I’m pretty sure they don’t have the consciousness of choice like humans do. That moth was acting on instinct.
But the moth’s instinct still tries to kill him.
In that moment, I felt deeply connected to that bug. Like, I knew what the moth was doing.
I wipe the tiny tears from the corner of my eyes, and I head inside. As I’m unpacking my groceries I notice that I had purchased a wedge of triple cream brie and a tube of summer sausage. I am kinda shocked because I don’t really remember buying these things at the store.
These two items are my first choice in “comfort food”. I almost have no way of stopping myself or employing any kind of moderation when it comes to either thing. There is something about that soft cheese and salted meat that I cannot deny.
The intensity is so strong that I only really purchase these foods with the intention that I will eat it all. Do any of you have food like that? Like stuff you only let yourself buy when you have decided it’s okay or necessary to take down the whole thing/bag?
I put the items in my fridge and I head into my bathroom to wash my hands.
On the bathroom mirror there are some words of affirmation that I have collected over the years, and perhaps my favorite one has to do with a moth, and I think I was a bit gobsmacked at how this whole evening was piecing together.
It says: “Once a moth, attracted to a flame, changed it’s mind and flew away unharmed.”
And then underneath it has the affirmation: “I can refuse to participate in self-destructive behavior.”
I know I’ve blogged about this affirmation before. I got it as a party gift from my friend Heather. It’s from an old deck of affirmations that she got from like, the 70’s or something. It was a silly thing, but hey! We can find inspiration in the oddest places.
Which leads me to the point I was trying to make in this post. I have been very busy, so I think I forgot that October has always been a hard month for me. And it’s weird too because on the one hand I love this month. Because of Halloween and fall, and like a billion people I love were born in October.
But on the other hand, weird shitty stuff always seems to happen in this month. Stuff that I can’t control. It reminds me of the loss of my brother. The seasons changing also kind of forces me to take stock of the year… and that kind of reflection can be glaring.
I think when I was on autopilot at the grocery store, I grabbed brie and summer sausage because my body and spirit was needing comfort. And I reverted to my most basic and typical form of comfort– Food. The weird thing is, I didn’t even realize it.
But I know from all the work that I’ve been doing, that kind of eating has been destructive to me in the past. It was my “flame” that usually hurt me. Even though I sought it out for help. I try to eat with intention now. And truth be told, sometimes the intention IS COMFORT.
But the difference between the old me, and the me now is that INTENTION. And this night, I was clocked out, not present, and I think it’s interesting that this is what happened.
I think noticing that moth jarred me out of that “on to the next thing” mentality that I was in, and forced me to be aware of my surroundings, and my feelings. And then unpacking the food, confirmed it.
I decided I wasn’t hungry, and I put that food away in the fridge. Hopefully to be enjoyed at some other time when I am actually hungry, and I can eat it with intention.
I took a deep breath, and drank a glass of water instead. I smiled.
The old me, didn’t even know that this was a pattern or a habit. I didn’t even know how to begin to investigate this kind of thing. The me that was drinking water on that night was able to investigate it, and reach an accurate conclusion within moments of discovering I was in fact, “In my feelings”. And then make a new choice.
In other words, I “changed my mind, and flew away unharmed.”
And that’s progress. That’s saying something.
Sometimes change is so slow, it feels like I haven’t moved at all. And then something small happens and I am suddenly met with a new version of myself. One that I’ve been working towards. And then just like that she appears.
I walked back to my front door and opened it. I looked at the hallway light where I had left that moth.
And wouldn’t you know it, the moth was gone.
Just like that.