The Lights in the Jar
The mason jar’s lid scratched my fingers as I held it shut. Tiny holes in the top to let them breathe, poked from the bottom of the lid, with sharp pieces of metal jutted upwards and sliding against my skin. Their light glowed onto my hand in a soothing green show of nature. Erika continued on chasing; cupping her hands together, and peeking to check for triumph. She hurried over to me to add another friend in the jar. The sun had set just ten minutes before and we continued along the backyard, catching any illuminating friend Erika could trap into her hands.
Suddenly, she stopped.
“What do they eat, Mom?”
I wasn’t sure. Other bugs? Leaves? I had left my phone in the house and couldn’t check.
“Won’t they die if we don’t feed them?” she asked.
Admittedly the sound of the word “die” coming from the mouth of my six-year-old shocked me. Did she truly understand what “to die” meant? Did she fear death like I fear my own? Did she fear that I will leave her life like my mother had left ours?
“I’m not sure,” was all I could say, biting my lip.
I thought about my mother leaving peacefully in her sleep the year before. Simply breathing her last holding my father’s tired worn hands on the hospital bed, the peaceful look on her face. The sun was baking on my face as I heard children laughing outside, and I closed my eyes away as the monitors confirmed what had happened. I feared leaving Erika much too soon. I feared what she would feel without her mother. Would she cry when I could not?
With closed eyes and a deep breath I eventually said, “Let’s find more friends, Erika.” I regretted deflecting her question.
We continued on adding our friends to the jar. Some of the friends in the jar began to glow slower, dimmer, and held to the walls of the jar without movement. I worried Erika would notice.
“Erika,” I called to her, but she didn’t respond. “Erika, we should go inside.”
She ran to me smiling, her hair bouncing. “Can I keep them on my dresser tonight?”
I knew she feared the dark. I could only react at first by pulling my lips inward and biting them.
“No, honey,” I finally responded. I could see her expression drop, despite it getting darker by the minute.
She began to object, “But Mom…”
“Won’t they die?” I could only ask.
Erika responded in imitation to my own reaction, pulling her lips inward. I noticed two friends glow as they escaped her small hands. “I don’t wanna sleep in the dark,” the words slipped out from her. She looked away from me.
“I know, honey. I know you don’t, but it isn’t right to use them like that. Do you love them?”
“Yes!” she immediately reacted, eyes wide with conviction.
“Sometimes… it’s better to let them go. We sometimes have to let friends go, to let them breathe. You had fun playing with them tonight, and look how many friends you made!”
Erika brushed the bangs out of her eyes and put her finger to her chin to think about what I said. She responded slowly, “But why can’t we be friends forever?”
“Forever is a long time, but even longer to them, I think. And you won’t stop being friends, this will make your friendship even stronger. You’ll see them tomorrow night.”
“How long do they live?”
“I’m not sure… I’m thinking much less time than us, though. That’s why it’s important, to enjoy the time you have together.”
Erika grinned at the thought of helping her new friends find happiness.
“They need to be free, and we need to sleep, Erika. It’s late. Would you like to open the jar? We’ll watch them off.”
She took the jar from my hands with a determined look on her face and wrestled with the lid to eventually spin it off. We placed the jar in front of the sliding door to the house. Together, we watched our friends fly off into the night from the comfort of a blanket and a warm embrace as she drifted into sleep.