When I was really little, I remember collecting bugs. I was pretty bad at it—I tried pinning their bodies to a shoe box and they all just kind of came apart. Skip ahead a few years when I was around nine or ten years old. Mom and Dad were thinking about building a house and we went to see the plot of land they were considering—a wide, open field. How I loved walking through the tall grass and feeling it tickle my legs! For weeks afterwards, I begged Mom to let us go back and explore the field once more.
“Margaret,” she finally said, completely exasperated. “You know there are bugs in those fields. You could get all sorts of bites.”
I imagined that the delightful tickling against my legs was actually bugs crawling all over me and shuddered. I never walked in a field again with the same simple joy.
Mom was afraid of bugs. She was grossed out by bugs. They were dirty and a sign she didn’t keep a clean house. They bit and stung. She didn’t scream at the sight of one. Instead, with a quiet “George,” she pointed out whatever insect dared to invade her space and Dad took care of it. Still, her revulsion was unmistakable, and over the years my sister and I became afraid of bugs as well. It got worse when my Dad had an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. Revulsion and fear turned into terror.
My sister and I would go through a kind of weird dance to avoid bees and insects of all sorts. If we were eating outside and a bee hovered at the table, we immediately threw back our chairs, stood up and backed away. If the bee followed us, we did some arm flapping. It was, quite frankly, humiliating.
Skip ahead quite a few years to 1986, when I was pregnant with our eldest son. Marc talked with me about my fears.
“You know, Margie,” he said. “I know you’re genuinely afraid. But you can’t do to our children what your mother did to you. I don’t want them taking on any of our irrational fears.” He wasn’t just talking about me. Marc was afraid of thunderstorms—something he learned from his mother. His asking me to control my behavior was also his own commitment to control his.
So, I had to become rational, face my fear and learn to hide it. When bees hovered by us, I ignored them. It was amazing to me to learn that they bothered you a whole lot less when you didn’t bother them. Gradually, I learned to control my behavior with other insects. If Marc was about, he still took care of getting bugs out of the house. If he wasn’t, then I took care of it. It might have been with a really big shoe or a can of bug spray, but I did it, without squealing or embarking on that bug dance of long ago. Marc has remained calm during every storm. And our boys grew up without learning either of those fears. We had learned self-control and discipline.
Well, mostly. I am admitting to you now that I remain completely repulsed by cicadas. It’s not that I don’t like them or that I think they’re gross or that the noise bothers me. All of that is true. This is deeper, and I feel the presence of my constant anxiety beating at me as we move through their peak week in Cincinnati.
It’s hard to face an irrational fear that only comes around every seventeen years. It’s even harder when cicadas, butt stupid as they are, constantly bump into me or land on me when I take Gracie out. I realize that my revulsion for them is irrational, but it doesn’t matter. As much as I told myself, facing this year’s invasion, that I would handle myself, I am finding that I cannot.
A couple days ago they were at their very worst. Two got into the house with my first trip outside. I found one and placed a bowl on top of it. I should have taken care of it, right? The other was well hidden but chirped about every three minutes throughout the day, so that I didn’t even feel safe in our house. During our 4:00 outdoor run they ran into me four times—twice in my face. I screamed each time it happened, which of course got Gracie going. She ran in circles up and down our hill, through the mud, stirring up any cicadas that weren’t already dancing around us. I just lost it.
The only other time I remember being that panicked was when I was awaiting my nursing board exam results. Everyone on my unit had gotten their results on Friday, except one nurse who got her results Saturday. My empty mailbox was torture, and of course I had heard the rumors that those who failed were notified after those that passed. The weekend was excruciating.
But see, that makes sense. My future was riding on those exam results. Panicking over cicadas makes absolutely no sense, but my fear is every bit as deep and tortuous.
This is supposed to be the time when I tell you how I overcame my fear and became one with the cicadas. I was brave! I tackled my fear! I emerged triumphant…and you can too!!
Well, to hell with that. I have decided to give in to the irrational, to endure as best I can. And, to forgive myself for doing so. I don’t think God will send me to cicada hell because of that fear or giving in. If we are ever imperfect human beings, I am deciding this is one place—okay, among many—where I will remain imperfect!