What one boomer learned from lightning bugs

Somehow, the whole phenomenon of lightning bugs seems like a long-past reflection of our youth. But one baby boomer, Marcia Smalley of Temecula, California, finds herself today living in the reflection of yesterday. She writes for BoomerCafé about What I Learned From Lightning Bugs.

Remember when you were a child and summer stretched on for what seemed like eternity? Long, lazy days ended with star-filled inky skies.

firefly_1In Indiana where I grew up, fireflies lit the world around us on those nights. We called them lightning bugs. They shared their tiny flashes of brilliance right before our eyes.

For better or worse, my neighborhood friends and I would chase after them with glass jars, hoping to capture their dazzle if only for a few minutes. I never liked to keep them for very long the way some kids did. I preferred to set them free, allowing them to share their glow with other kids in another yard.

I’ve always wondered what happens to lightning bugs as summer ends, and what beckons them as it begins again. I’m sure I could Google that to get a satisfying, technical answer. But that’s not really what I’m asking.

My deeper question is what happens to our willingness to do the things that light us up as the seasons of our lives change. What happens to our tendency to while away the hours and get lost in an activity that fills our hearts and collapses time?

Marcia Smalley

Marcia Smalley

I often fight the notion now that I’m running out of time.

I stay mindful of reframing that thought, dissolving it to avoid becoming stressed, even panicked. As someone with multiple interests and several projects running in parallel, the thought that there aren’t enough hours in the day can freeze me in my tracks.

And when I do give myself the gift of becoming totally immersed in something I enjoy — painting, walking in nature, writing, cooking a wonderful meal for friends — I am changed for the better. I’m freer, breathing deeper, smiling. I’m a happier person for having done that thing.

Maybe that lightness of being is only temporary, like the life span of the lightning bug. Who cares? It feels amazing.

fireflyAt this stage of the game we all understand that what lights us up also lightens us up.

You’re not running out of time, and neither am I.

I commit to putting delight in a holding pattern like a long summer’s day.

I honor what makes my heart smile and what feeds my soul.

I allow that joy to move freely through all my moments in the same way I allowed those lightning bugs to fly off and keep shining.

Here’s to losing track of time.


  1. Great article. I remember the lightning bugs myself. But there are two philosophies. Steven Wright used to say, “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.” However, Carlos Castaneda observed that “if you hold the awareness of your death over your shoulder, it is an alley to help you live.” For some people, knowing time is finite, well … it gives them the incentive to take some risks, to appreciate every single day, to live life to the maximum. Best wishes you can find your own balance between those two opposite perspectives. Light up and fly …

  2. Well said, Marcia! Two of my favorite simple pleasures are: watermelon on perfect summer day and fireflies (we called them lightning bugs, too) on a perfect summer night.

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