A chorus of cicadas always sounds like summer to me. Right now, our 17-year cicada is out singing for attention. Even riding my bike down Grand Avenue in Des Moines today I could barely hear my music over their sounds, and as I got on the trail in Greenwood Ashworth park they had even greater intensity.
The last time 17-year cicadas hatched in Iowa I was seven years old. I vaguely remember my dad telling me that these types of cicadas wouldn’t come again for 17 years. As a child I imagined myself 17 years down the road, probably working as a writer and married with a dog. Innocent to the struggles life would hold. It seems like it might be a sad thought, but I actually smile at the thought of 7-year-old Ash listening to cicadas in the backyard with dad, wondering what life might be like many years away.
Cicadas are nymphs. Living most of their life underground, after they emerge they molt and emerge from their skins as adults. They leave their old skin behind on a tree or plant as they go off into the world to find a mate.
As an only child on a farm I had a lot of imaginary friends. My friends were very real to me, and I spent my time drawing pictures of what I imagined they looked like, what their closets looked like, what their bedrooms looked like. As if these were the things that truly made a person.
I’ve always tried to express who I was externally, through the clothes I wore or what I kept in my bag or even how I walked. I have always been eccentric, which means I’ve gone through many styles of dress. Even in elementary school I went through a phase where I liked dressing like I was from outer space. I was painfully shy. I usually hid behind my mom’s leg when I was around people I didn’t know well. I used my outward appearance as a crutch. A way to say, I’m kind of interesting, you should talk to me. I do it to this day.
After I returned from my bike ride with the cicadas I spent about twenty minutes watching videos of cicadas molting. The very first time I watched it I felt disgusted. I felt vomit forming at the back of my throat. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. It looked like the cicada was giving birth to another being, which crawled out of the original cicada’s back. After the fresh new cicada crawled out and flew away the original cicada just sat there as if nothing happened.
Cicadas actually molt and shed their skin. They crawl out of their shells, standing up out of them like they’re getting out from the covers for their morning stretch. They leave the original skin behind. Initially the skin looks like a real bug, sitting there waiting to give birth to another cicada.
In the Buddhist belief of reincarnation it’s not the soul that goes on to the next life, the idea of a soul doesn’t exist in Buddhism. Instead it’s a kind of spiritual DNA or evolving consciousness that moves from one life to the next. You’re not exactly the same in the next life, you might not even be human, but you’re also not entirely different from what came before. What came before is never truly lost.
Isn’t it strange to look at a photograph and remember details about the day? Even when I look at selfies from my iPhone I can recall strange facts about the day, like what I had for dinner or something I saw on my walk that day.
I imagine that’s what a flashback to a former life would be like. A weird knowing without any proof.
Personal growth is so difficult and painful. It seems like it would just be easier to take the cicada approach and ditch the old thing cold turkey. I’ve gone through two major life changes in the past year. First I separated from my husband, and now mere months later I’m adopting minimalism, committing to veganism, studying Buddhism. It was just three years ago that I set out on a journey to lose 90 pounds.
I feel like I’m changing so rapidly all the time. It’d be nice to unload some of these extra skins I have laying around.
Cicadas are often written about as careless, singing their summers away and finding they haven’t produced anything worthwhile. They sing until they die.
When I first separated from my husband I thought I would make up for lost time and have some fun. I’d spent most of my teens and early twenties in a relationship. I lived in fear that I would die not having really experienced anything. I was disillusioned with the typical American life of the car, the house, the husband, the baby. The deeper I got into it, the more I wanted out. I saw my single friends around me having what seemed like an endless amount of fun. For once in my life I actually wanted to be like everyone else.
It took less than a year of stupidity, of almost fitting in, to make me realize that the quest for happiness through debauchery and carefree living was a dead-end road that I had no business being on.
I do not regret any of the decisions I made. It was only through taking a little detour that I realized I was almost exactly where I wanted to be. I was committed to a healthy lifestyle, to learning and to my work. These aren’t things I become even more committed to with each passing day.
The detour I took made me realize how unhappy I was on the typical American road. I wasn’t even sure how I ended up on it. It made me realize that there is no one right path for anyone, but many different trails winding through the same woodland. Sometimes you get off on a trail and think it might lead somewhere, but then you find that it only leads to a dangerous ravine or the edge of the woods. This can be an anxious feeling of uncertainty.
But all you have to do is turn around and look back to remember where you came from. You might have to backtrack a bit, but eventually a new fork in the trail emerges and you’ve found your compass.