“What’s your favorite insect?” my 7-year-old daughter asked as we took an evening walk on the first night of her spring vacation. “You can’t pick butterfly. Everyone picks the butterfly,” she quickly added before I had a chance to respond.
“Hmmmmm,” I thought out loud. “I guess mine would have to be a ladybug,” I finally answered.
“Mine’s a firefly. I love the firefly,” she said wistfully.
We kept walking. Talking. Enjoying the rare treat of alone time — just my younger daughter and me.
“Am I OK? I mean, am I fine?” she asked, looking down at herself. “Sometimes I feel different.”
I immediately stopped walking and searched her face. Without saying what she meant, I knew; I just knew.”
I bent down and spoke from a painful memory tucked away since second grade. “When I was your age, I felt different too. I felt uncomfortable, self-conscious. One boy said really cruel things about the way I looked. He said I didn’t belong. His words hurt me for a long, long time,” I admitted.
As she looked at me sadly, her previous words echoed in my head. “Everyone picks the butterfly,” she’d pointed out a moment ago.
I placed my hands on her sturdy little shoulders as if somehow this could make her feel my words right down to the bone. “I want you to know something. You can always talk to me when you feel different or uncomfortable. I will never laugh. I will never judge you or tell you it’s no big deal. I will never brush away your feelings, because I understand. I remember how it hurts. And sometimes you just need someone to understand that hurt.”
“I love the firefly,” she had said a moment ago. I then realized I had something she could hold onto.
“You mentioned that you love the firefly,” I reminded her. “Well, I think you’re a lot like a firefly. You know why?” I asked.
The worry on her face lifted. She looked at me hopefully. “Why, Mama?”
“Because you shine from within,” I said, touching my finger to her heart. “Not everybody sees it, but I do. I see it. And my job is to protect that light. So when people say mean comments that squelch that light, I want you to tell me. I will protect your light by listening and loving you, my brave, courageous, and unique little firefly.”
My daughter stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my neck. She still said nothing — not one word. Maybe it was because she was on the verge of tears. Maybe it was because silent comfort was all she needed in that moment. I can’t be sure. But what I can be sure of is this: this story is not over.
You see, as weeks have passed, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our firefly talk and the timing of this message. The end and the beginning of each school year can be hard for kids, especially the Fireflies—those who shine from within.
And it’s that time — time for back-to-school outfits, team tryouts, classroom assessments, and after school clubs. The Butterflies will be noticed. So brilliant. So colorful. Their talents so obvious. But let us not forget the Fireflies. Their triumphs are quiet and unsuspecting. Their gifts might even go completely unnoticed.
A Firefly might be a seat saver on the bus so someone doesn’t have to go to the intimidating back row.
A Firefly might be a songwriter who pens music in his nightly dreams and hums away his days.
A Firefly might be an artist who creates pictures you can feel with your soul.
A Firefly might save his money for years, just waiting for his heart to tell him, “That’s the one who needs your help.”
A Firefly might stay up past bedtime calculating numbers beneath the covers because she was born a mathematician.
A Firefly might be the IT kid of the school who jumps at the chance to help teachers with their computer woes.
A Firefly might get lost in a cloud of flour, delighting in culinary arts.
A Firefly might be a horseback rider finding peace in the company of animals and nature.
A Firefly might devour a 357-page book in one sitting.
A Firefly might have eyes for the lonely, looking for someone who wonders if she’s invisible.
A Firefly might stick up for the lost, the rejected, the alone.
A Firefly might be the lost, the rejected, the alone… just waiting for someone to notice his light among all the bright, fluttering wings of the Butterflies.
Maybe you know a Firefly. Maybe you love a Firefly.
If you do, please don’t wait. Don’t wait for someone to hand him an award or a give her a certificate to make their talents and gifts “official.” That day may never come. So say it now. Say this:
I see your light.
I see it when you pick up your guitar.
I see it when you make brushstrokes of yellow, green, and gold.
I see it when you sing with your eyes closed.
I see it when you laugh with your mouth open.
I see it when you stand along the water’s edge, dreaming of your future.
I see your light, my brave and courageous Firefly.
You shine from within.
And regardless of whether anyone else sees it — you know it’s there, and I know it’s there.
So keep shining.
Keep adding, subtracting, and multiplying.
Keep making your magic.
And just you wait. Someday the world is going to see what I see. And your light will be so beautiful, so brilliant, so bright that the world is going to stop and wonder where such a light comes from.
And you and I will both know that light, well, it’s been there all along.
Because you are a Firefly.
You shine from within.
And I am here to protect that light, my brave and courageous Firefly.