Every summer the cicadas sing their song. Every summer it starts too soon. Every summer it makes me sad.
It made sense when I was young. The cicada’s song signaled school’s imminent return. I enjoyed school, so maybe it didn’t make sense, but as a child, it was the best I could come up with. I dreaded the inevitability of its lonely refrain vibrating through summer’s evening air. My parents held a different opinion. They called it beautiful.
Age has allowed me to agree. I can hear a loveliness in the cicada’s song because I know now it was never what I was walking toward that made me sad; it what I was walking away from. School was good but was home was better. More time at school meant less time with my mom and dad and brother, less time in books, less time with my grandparents, less time to be free.
Sometimes I hear the cicadas singing over my children’s lives and feel the same hollow sadness I did in childhood. I heard it as the newborn became a baby and the baby grew into a toddler who wandered out into the living room one day as a child, soft baby fat having disappeared in the night. I heard it when they stepped onto the school bus, the soccer field, and the stage. I hear it now as I watch my seventeen-year-old-hardly-a-boy-anymore do his seventeen-year-old stuff.
When he was three a thunderstorm brought down a tree branch in our front yard. The next morning, he put on his tool-belt, climbed into the branches, and went to work with his plastic ax. When he was nine our neighbor’s treetop landed in our yard and he was there immediately, checking it out and absorbing the talk about what would happen next. At seventeen he helps provide the wood our family needs to be warm through the winter. His plastic ax is gone, replaced by tools with sharp edges and motors.
He’s building a trebuchet this summer, perhaps the last in a series of many. This is a big one, with a metal frame, and this is his second summer on it. I want desperately for him to have time to play in his way, but he’s growing up, and time a luxury. He doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t think he hears the song.
The cicadas aren’t at fault. They are message bearers only. The thing is, I’m not ready for him to go. The time is so close and their song is so loud and sometimes I don’t want to hear it. The cicada’s song has its own rhythm, relenting occasionally and silencing itself long enough for his father and me to enjoy the boy he is even as it reveals the man he is becoming.
I know it’s not what he’s walking toward that makes me sad. It’s what he’s walking away from. Perhaps with a little more silence, I can make peace with their song.