The last aria

The last aria

There is a cricket playing the violin in my bathroom.


There is a cricket playing the violin in my bathroom. At least that is how I imagine him. What he is really doing is chirping in the wall behind the radiator. I know that he chirps by rubbing his wings together, and I know that he does this to call a mate. He has no chance of success, alone as he is, in a wall, in a house. But he does not know this and so he keeps on. He has kept on for days now. He must be tired. And hungry.

Because his effort is futile and heroic in its persistence; because it is for love, or at least love as crickets know it; and no doubt because he is scraping away with his wings like a bow on strings, in such lifeless conditions, it has taken on a kind of crazy romance for me—the stuff of opera, the ultimate in doomed love. And for doomed love, really, the only instrument is the violin.

I feel he is playing the violin there behind the radiator. And I am sorry for him.

I would find him a mate, if I could, and gently release her there where the pipes end and the baseboard begins. If she did not move, I would nudge her in to him.

She would appear a goddess in that wasteland of copper and sheetrock. He would not believe his eyes—if crickets can see much in low light. After all his time and effort, with the purpose of his song, nearly his deathsong, all but forgotten, it would be redeemed back into lovesong at the last moment. This is how I would probably behave all the time if I were God.

But I am not, and instead I found him one morning on the floor, unsteady with what I took for fatigue and starvation. He was too weak to jump away from my benign hand. He tried to hide his black body in a white porcelain corner. I took him up and released him outside, where he crawled into the brittle curl of an early fallen leaf, and was still. I would like to think he had strength left to forage for food, or perhaps to play one last aria, where he might finally be heard.

How many times this small world has shown me our own, magnified. Mortality and failed love, loneliness and persistence, ugliness and hope in terrible circumstances. Fragility, beauty, strangeness and impossibility, death and ignominy. Life reborn, saved, smashed, sprayed, elusive, metamorphosed, familiar, unrecognizable.

I have great power over small things. I have small power over great things. I pray with thankfulness that I continue to notice these things, that I save what I can and mourn what I cannot. I pray also that I hear always the imperative song of the larger world, so impervious to my vision and efforts. I pray I will not tire of playing my own song out to the world, that I will not give up when it is not heeded, that help will come when I am tired and alone—and that it might be enough.

This essay, which was published originally under the byline Elizabeth Lerner, is reprinted with permission from With or Without Candlelight: A Meditation Anthology, edited by Victoria Safford (Skinner House Books, 2009).

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