EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Metamorphosis shone a light
The instant it died I understood its urgent need to cling to the feeble artificial illumination that seeped out from the single 60-watt bulb in the living room — the only room — of my bedsit. Its dizzy flight, unfathomable habit of night-time freefalling and apparent random nature of its destination had brought about immediate panic on its arrival, and I had been chosen to either put out its light or facilitate its safe removal.
I took the latter option, but a long-term irrational fear meant my efforts began with indecision and concluded in minor tragedy. Close up, shaking hand poised ready to clamp a glass around the wall-bound insect, the moth appeared more beautiful than I could ever have imagined and I realised my anxieties were based not on an intense dislike but on a failure to comprehend the reason behind its existence and its behaviour.
I stared at it, wondering what it was feeling, if indeed it felt at all, for what must have been several minutes. Then I placed the container within six inches of its surprisingly sturdy body and drew away, apprehensive of sudden movement on its part or of accidentally crushing the insect.
Eventually I steadied my hand then jerked the glass forward onto the wall, encapsulating my target. I had expected the moth to throw itself around, to attempt to escape its trap, but it remained perfectly and serenely still. No sound, no movement.
I slipped a thin piece of paper between the glass and the wall and carefully carried his temporary prisoner out of the flat, down the stairs and onto the scruffy untended scrap of garden, where I lifted the glass and retreated.
When I returned I saw the moth had remained on the paper, motionless, dead. I had put out its light for ever.
I remember fixing a prolonged gaze on the newly lifeless creature, its dull, at first sight almost colourless body and wings covered in scales. I noticed two intense blue and black eye spots set against a pinkish background on its hind wings. Captivating really.
Braver (though bravery, is, of course always relative), I pulled its forewings — folded roof-like over its body — forward and saw its eyes were now deadened, no longer able or needed to scare off potential predators, its antennae down. A curiosity, maybe two to three inches wing tip to wing tip. Years later, after searching a website and being surprised at the number of species, I concluded it to be of the Eyed Hawk variety but that’s not a given.
Does the moth head to the light to facilitate its dance or is it trapped by the brightness? Its mission surely always ends in disappointment; a window to crash against, a dim bulb in a terrible room, a fire to scorch its wings and a moon out of reach, its flight spent way before its intended terminus.
I don’t know why I had been scared of moths as a child — perhaps they suffered my disdain simply from not being as attractive as butterflies — or why this minor incident stuck with me, but looking back, at the time as part of my degree I was reading Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and that was more than likely guiding my over-complicated thought process at the time. It explains the insect-paranoia too.
I determined I would never again be afraid of the moth and its quest for light. I would also search for a new life, a new light.
It seems simplistic now because there’s always some darkness to fight your way through with the risk of getting burnt, but you always need hope shine the spotlight on a pathway and, however you get that, sometimes, just sometimes, it’s enough. Sadly, as I have discovered many times, not always.