I couldn't believe I did it. I killed a little friend who showed up out of nowhere. I knew exactly why I did it, but a split instant later, sitting there in deep regret, I couldn't understand why I acted so quickly. Pure instinct. No hesitation. No other options considered. Ok. I can tell already this is going to require some explaining. If you're still with me and want to take this journey, sit back, take a deep breath, and try to forget what I just wrote for a few minutes while I put this in context and share the understanding and the gift that later emerged.
Our family's tradition of Pennsylvania fall apple picking and pumpkin carving had long faded into sweet memories of laughter and hugs. Our kids, all living in California now, are beautifully crafting new traditions with the loves of their lives. It is so heartwarming to witness. And bittersweet. But this year was different. This year, everyone was descending on our home for ten days in the middle of October, perfect for rekindling the fire of our nostalgic family traditions.
Days before their arrival, I went on a rampage to clean up our patios. Oh yes, fall in Pennsylvania, remember? Leaves everywhere! Now add to that my previous neglect and the accumulation of debris throughout the summer. Well, you get the ugly picture. I was highly motivated to clean this up to make our outdoor living space as comfortable as possible for their visit. This was especially true for the patio with the fire pit. I imagined huddling around those flames in the evenings - hot chocolate, cookies, talking, sharing. More memories...
Mission accepted, I freed the power washer from its corner prison in the garage. Pulling the engine's starter rope, I was met with a single "pop!", a puff of smoke, and silence. Subsequent attempts only served as exercise. I imagined the worse but decided to at least check the oil before giving up. Pulling out the dipstick, a stream of a thin, brown lotion gushed out, coating my fingers. Nothing normal about that! One whiff and a mixture of oil and gasoline met my nose. I had no idea what would cause that, but I had a sinking feeling I was in over my handyman head. Never one to give up before actually drowning, I enlisted Google's assistance. Voila! A simple, but very messy fix leapt from YouTube and into my hands. Thirty minutes later, with a carburetor needle valve unclogged, a bowl float unstuck, and fresh oil in the engine, the power washer lived up to it name once again!
This half hour of repairs took place in my garage. At the outset, I gathered up old newspapers in the kitchen and, surrounded by my tools, covered a small area on the bare concrete floor. I was in that spot, cleared of everything but my tools and the power washer, from start to finish, so cleanup was simple and well contained. My final act was gathering up the newspaper. As I moved to pick up the first sheet, there before me was my little friend - a large, bright white cricket. I had never seen a cricket quite like it. It looked albino in stark contrast to the typical black ones I've occasionally seen around. But that wasn't what surprised me most. The fact he was there at all is what seized me. He wasn't there when I started. I never saw him arrive while I was working. And I can't imagine he would have been brave enough to just stop by and visit through the mayhem of my banging around, particularly given the noise from the engine at the end. But there he was. And then he wasn't. Just as quickly as I noticed him, I killed him! I smashed him in an instant. And in that same instant, I was FILLED with remorse! What the hell?! Why did I do that?! I was in shock at the mindless act I had just committed. As I tried to process this, I realized why I felt compelled to do it. But I still didn't understand why I actually did do it. So I went deeper.
Have you ever had a cricket in your home or garage? We have. Many times. Every year a cricket takes up residence in our garage for weeks at a time, usually in the fall. And man are they stealth! You can rarely find them and if you do, they are impossible to catch. And they chirp incessantly, filling our garage and our adjacent kitchen with their shrill voice. For weeks leading up to this "murder," we were plagued by a cricket. The very cricket, I assumed, whose life I had just so regrettably snuffed out. It was also the first one I had actually met. Like every other year, my mind played the same movie every time I heard one. "If I could only find and get to the little bugger, I'd put an end to the incessant noise!" That is a radical thought coming from someone who, like his father before him, routinely captures insects and takes them outdoors rather than kill them. But somehow, this cricket scenario seemed different, more intrusive. It shifted my perspective. It was more personal. And the movie I played in my mind was produced with that backstory.
These were harmless thoughts, or so I thought. I never expected to act on them, nor did I care if I did! Over the years, they left as quickly as they arose. But my actions that day tell me now that I should have been paying closer attention to the fact they were present at all. When I reconstructed my split-second thinking at the moment I first saw him and took his life, here's what showed up:
Where did he come from?
I can't believe he is right here in front of me!
I have never been able to catch one of these little buggers.
I'll catch him and take him outside.
No! That won't work... they're too fast.
I've got to kill him!
Oh shit! I can't believe I just did that!!!!
No! No! No! Why did I do that? What was I thinking?
... ewwww, oh man... smashed cricket smells horrible!
Over the next several hours, as I power-washed the patios and lawn furniture, my mind turned this over. Yes, I regretted taking this cricket's life. But I really wasn't mourning that. I was actually mourning the fact that I succumbed to something much deeper that robbed me of choice in that moment. Something that completely seized any control I could have exercised to make a different decision and take a different course of action. An action with irreversible consequences. The program that drove me had been subtly written in my brain over years of repetitive thought. So, when the trigger arrived, it executed without a moment's hesitation and with lightning-fast processing. As the day wore on, lost in the mindless work of clearing leaves and debris, I reflected even more deeply.
I went back to 1995 when we built our house in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. My mother, always so thoughtful and wise, gave us several very meaningful housewarming gifts. Among them is a brass, you guessed it, cricket. We have it still by the fireplace in our current home. Crickets have been a traditional symbol of good luck for thousands of years in many cultures. Our symbolic brass rendition is especially meaningful to me because it is a constant reminder of my mother's love and tender caring all through her life and even since her passing in 2012. The meaning of my careless act was magnified as I reflected on this. Not in a superstitious way. It just prompted deeper reflection that would come back around a little later in this story.
While I was busy at these chores and lost in my world, my wife was scheming remotely with the kids. She was recruiting them via text message to help clear out crap we've accumulated over twenty years living in the same home. More specifically, she was talking about my crap. Everyone chimed in to say they'd be happy to help us empty the basement and garage while they were home. The thought gave me hives, but I did a decent job of sucking up the angst created by images of tools being heaved into black garbage bags behind my back. In an attempt to get me in the mood for this purge, lighthearted texts flew back and forth for several days before they arrived.
Finally, that day came and everyone was home. Days went by. We picked apples and shopped at the orchard store. We huddled together, touring a haunted house, and relived that experience in the craft brewery carved out of the huge, haunted estate. Back home, patio all spruced up, we sat around our fire pit, stargazing and talking late into the night. Meals and stories and laughs and hugs. We were together so completely we could feel our passed loved ones in our midst.
Eventually, we carved our "purge day" out of all this fun and made it to the garage, setting about the task promised in advance. Hours of work produced bulging, tool-free bags, filled to the brim. The last one filled and tied up tight, they sat quietly, like black bears waiting to be shooed to the curb. In those final moments we stood in that silence, taking in our day's work. Silence filled with satisfaction. Silence filled with... chirp... chirp... chirp... As if on queue, a lone white cricket appeared in our midst. Appeared at our feet. In the exact spot as my little friend just a few days before. No one saw her arrive. No flamboyant entry. She calmly announced her presence with her serenade, standing on the very spot where I had taken the life of my little friend days before.
I was too ashamed at the time to tell this backstory to my family. In fact, this is the first I've shared it with anyone but my wife. The act itself may seem trivial and my reaction silly. But its meaning, clear to me now, is neither. Lessons arrive on the wings of awareness. And I am so very grateful this one appeared when I was awake. I am also grateful for the presence and the role I know Spirit played in this little "coincidence." I take more care now with my thoughts. Particularly those that wish to take up residence, or have already. Thoughts that arrive with suitcases full and no return ticket. Thoughts that usher in actions at the ready. Actions that need no permission to engage. Actions in service to belief, without regard to truth.
Our new little friend carried on that day, unharmed. She performed for a while, then left as quietly and mysteriously as she came. By sunset she was gone forever, taking her voice but leaving her wisdom behind. Just like my mother. Forgiveness received. Perspective returned. Lesson learned.