A little bug lives around my porch. He looks like a fly, but just barely. He’s fun to watch.
His body is smooth. It’s without the hair common to flies and he’s shaped shiny and sinuous like the body of an ant and about as big. His proboscis is long considering his overall size. He’s always walking around looking for something.
While looking around, his wings will extend outward and expose large distinctive black circles at their tips. His wings look like Mickey Mouse’s ears.
He’ll often light on me to just explore the contours of my skin. He stumbles through the hair on my arm, like an expeditionary force forging paths through dense jungle undergrowth.
I was lying in the sun one day and he landed on the top of my hand. It’s mostly hairless, so he moved around easily. He got to my index finger, walked to and fro on it finally arriving at the tip and settling on my fingernail. It must have seemed like a clearing. The cuticle especially interested him. I noticed his proboscis and how he used it to examine the cuticle. He placed it like a blind man uses his cane, tapping the terrain ahead to get the lay of the land. He was checking out every millimeter.
What was he looking for? I will never know, of course, but it might be that the search was sufficient for him. Just exploring a new neighborhood was enough.
What are any of us looking for? In a manner of speaking, we have very long proboscises. We have investigated everything in and out of sight, from the composition of DNA to the outer reaches of space. However, nothing sates us very long; whatever we find isn’t what we want. I think we’re looking for nourishment; I believe it’s food for the soul.
I’m persuaded that a compulsive appetite for more is driven by the thrill of acquisition, not the value of the object sought. Just getting something is the nature of that kind of game.
There’s another kind of search, though. This search is for no other reason than the sheer joy of it.
A man who does yard work will occasionally bring his young son with him. The boy is about five. One day the man appeared with two boys, his son and the son’s older cousin.
The dad began his chores. The boys began roaming the property. They’d pass by my studio windows the way I’ve seen squirrels, darting from one thing to the next, as if scouring the ground for morsels. In this case, they were (they’d tell us later) in the search of treasures.
At times they looked like string-puppets, their limbs twitching, heads wagging as though they were affixed to invisible strings dictating their motions.
The older boy was clearly the leader. Whither he went, the younger happily followed. Everywhere they roamed, the older one shepherded him, like a mentor, showing and sharing with him all the mysteries he uncovered in our front yard. Follow the leader, unpopular today, was a good thing in this case.
They romped back and forth past my window. The object of one sortie was the magnolia tree, particularly the seed pods, the remains of the spent blossoms which had fallen on the bed of river rocks arranged around its base. They picked the pods up, scrutinized them briefly, and then held them as if emulating flight, perhaps of a dirigible, making sounds I couldn’t make out. Tiring of this, they threw them like miniature footballs out onto the yard.
The boys were the icons of perpetual motion.
The trust the younger felt for the older was apparent and no matter what new thing they came upon, the older immediately enlisted the younger in exploring it with him. I was especially moved by this; perhaps for feeling jaded in this era of ours that seems to be wanting in the kind of leadership that invites partnership and particularly communicates caring.
My wife invited them into the house. But, no! They were content to stay outdoors. It was a wide and wonderful world out there in the yard, too much so for them to be confined indoors.
The boys invited her to join them at the shoreline. They’d unearthed a treasure they were eager to have her see.
The treasure turned out to be a rock. It was unremarkable except that it appeared to have been sliced clean in half, revealing a marvelous interior. Perhaps an agate, a geode? In either case its bland gray exterior belied the rich hues of the interior, like colored crystals, which if you were to turn the stone in the light, the colors appeared to glow.
The boys asked if they might take home the treasures. Of course, they could.
Familiarity breeds unawareness. We stop looking. In fact, there is so much that has been staring you and me in the face that we never really see. Children don’t miss a thing. Turn them loose and they’re sure to widen our horizons. They remain awe-stricken by the world. It’s a great place to just explore.
In their search, the boys had discovered the magnolia’s seed pod stems. The magnolia stands right outside my studio window. For 30 years I watched it bloom and then drop its leaves and eventually its seed pods. Feel the stems, they insisted. It fascinated them. The stem was soft and velvety to the touch. I, too, was fascinated by its peculiar property.
What I had been caught up in with the boys’ visit was the ‘joie de vivre’ they possessed, that magical excitement that’s generated in the experience of just searching – just looking around a place – for the first time.
Children seek with fresh minds, with curiosity devoid of preconditioned ideas or prejudices which inevitably are the fruits of aging. Imagine seeing something for the very first time, maybe the lunar eclipse, and since you and I may have had no history with it, the seeing contains a purity of excitement that’s rare in the adult world.
For all that, I decided that the best kinds of seeking we’ll ever do is the kind that has no agenda, no need for an acquisition. I suspect my little friend with wings like mickey Mouse’s ears, was all over my arm and hand just for the fun of it, nothing more than curiosity about this strange humanoid who occupies the porch and has hairy arms and fingernails as smooth as glass.
The wisdom in all this is that when the search itself is enough, then we find what we’re looking for.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.