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Moth

December 28, 2014 8 comments

It seemed too warm and too early for snow. But, from my window, I see it falling in the night light of a streetlamp. Leonard Cohen’s The Traitor is playing in the background.

The song, Cohen says, is about the feeling we have of betraying some mission we believed we were mandated to fulfill, but unable to fulfill; then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it; and the deep courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself.

The snowflakes remind me of moths surrounding the streetlight in a flutter of wings. Lepidopterists say moths are positively phototactic, which means if you turn on a light, they’ll head for it. There is no explanation for this phenomenon, only theories.

Moths might use the light as a reference point, moving towards it to adjust their flight position by maintaining a constant angle relative to the light source. The circling behavior may be caused by a visual distortion common to sighted creatures, called a Mach band. The band is the region surrounding a bright light, in the darkest part of the sky. Moths might be attracted to the band because they seek the cover of darkness for safety as they circle the light until they can navigate away from it. This path is disorienting, pulling them close to the light. It’s a coin toss spiral to freedom or fiery doom.

I’m thinking about moths, missions, snow, listening to Cohen’s words, “…On the battlefields from here to Barcelona, I’m listed with the enemies of love…” The soldier’s military duty is his mandate, but he is pulled off course, war nerves perhaps, seeking refuge, surrendering to desire, knowing the cost of his path.

Love and war. Lust and duty.
We can anthropomorphize moths to a flame, though no moth measured longing against reason. No moth fanned a smoldering desire, felt guilt, guiltless, or asked forgiveness.

The soldier says, “Should rumor of a shabby ending reach you, it was half my fault and half the atmosphere.” That bright light. We understand it, and know its attraction. It calls us away from where we believe we should be. We’ve been flying into the tail lights, under the truth

With our mission failed and unfulfilled, we are light warriors. We may be traitors to our own war, but we head for that light, blinded by it, burned out and burned up by it. Then again, we may be blessed and unburdened by it. Our failure becomes our freedom.

In the dark of night, on a country porch or outside a city window, a light goes on. The pull towards it, and away from everything else, may be your truest mission. May you have the deep courage to stand guiltless, fearless. Get stuck, get scorched, get saved.

Toni Tan

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