Seventeen-Year Cicadas Send Powerful Message

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, June 13, 2013

The hills are alive, and so are the woods, fields and meadows, with the sound of 17-year cicadas.

The landscape is not alive with music, however, unless you happen to enjoy avant-garde droning dissonance.

But our world, thanks to these fascinating insects with the annoying mating call, is steeped in message and meaning, at least for a few more weeks.

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These periodic cicadas spend most of their lives underground, emerging for just a handful of weeks to live out their short adulthood above ground, where they mate to keep the species humming, so to speak. By the middle of next month they will be gone, their singing turned to silence.

Spending those years underground is what they are supposed to do. The 17-year cicadas must live their lives in the dark, a foot or more beneath the blades of grass upon which we step, feeding on plant and tree roots. Year after year after year, until their time to emerge, mostly around the base of trees, arrives.

Many of us spend too much of our lives, like the cicada, in our own holes in the ground, rather than stepping out into the world and singing our song. It is both a state of mind that focuses our attention inward and a resulting state of being that leads us to go home and close the door behind us after earlier closing our minds to the notion that we might have something important to contribute to the world.

We become too comfortable in our places of sanctuary away from real challenges in life. But our community cannot afford to wait 17 years for what each of us has to offer.

The life-cycle of Farmville, Buckingham, Prince Edward and Cumberland cannot sustain itself if we do not come out into the light and contribute our own singing call, filling what would otherwise remain silence with an idea, a contribution, a willingness to serve our communities, and so our region, our state and our nation.

An idea, a contribution, a service that will die unborn unless we determine to give them life with our own lives.

There's another lesson we can learn from the cicada, too. The 17-year cicadas do not emerge alone. They come out and up into the light all together. We don't have to do whatever it is within us to do single-handed. An idea that comes out of your life can be embraced by, and filled with, other lives that join to turn your song into a symphony.

Barbara Johns is a remarkable illustration of the power of the twin symbols brought to life this summer by the 17-year cicadas. The song within the heart and soul of a solitary high school student was joined by the voices of her classmates at R. R. Moton High School, then the U.S. Supreme Court, and, finally, voices across the United States of America, itself, helping to transform a nation that became filled with the sound of that music.

The emergence of the 17-year cicadas within weeks of the Moton Museum's grand-opening is fitting and underscores the message.

If Barbara Johns had remained silent, alone in the woods with her prayers and meditations, there would have been no song for our nation to sing.

A teenager in Farmville helped change our world.

What song is in your own heart?

Don't wait 17 years to set it free.